Oliver Dowden faced questions over the coronavirus lockdown after SAGE members have come forward suggesting Boris Johnson is lifting restrictions too quickly. The Culture Secretary said 38,376 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Friday, up by 215 from 38,161 the day before. In the 24-hour period, up to 9am on Saturday, 127,722 tests were carried out or dispatched with 2,445 positive results.
BBC’s Chris Mason asked: “What do you say to those scientists and others who say you’re easing the lockdown in England too quickly?”
Mr Dowden said it must be remembered there are more than 50 scientists in Sage “all of whom will have their different perspectives”.
He told the daily briefing that scientists are “absolutely right to urge caution”.
He said: “We are at a risky point, that is to say that we have got the R number below 1, it’s in the range of 0.7-0.9, but we haven’t got that much headroom.
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“That’s why the Prime Minister has been clear that we need to proceed in a very cautious way.”
He said he believes the Government is “broadly in agreement” with what the scientists are saying.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned during the daily briefing that the virus “gets out of control quite quickly if you allow it to”.
He said: “Don’t see this as a curve that’s the same going up as it is down, it’s quite easy for it to go up, (but) it’s quite hard to get the brakes on to go back down.
“So I really hope that people will follow the advice that’s given to the letter, and not any further than that, therefore we’re never in that position again.”
It comes as fears that lockdown measures may be being eased too soon by ministers have been expressed by a number of scientists who advise the Government on the Covid-19 outbreak.
Professor Peter Horby, of the University of Oxford, joined scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, all members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), to warn that ministers were taking risks.
Mr Johnson has announced a gradual easing of the lockdown in England, with friends and families able to meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six from Monday.
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The easing of England’s lockdown will also signal the reopening of schools to allow students in nurseries, early-years settings, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to class, and more shops reopening, with outdoor retail and car showrooms able to resume operations.
Asked if he agreed it was too soon to ease more of the lockdown, Prof Horby told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Actually, I do.
“You know, we have still got 8,000 cases a day. We have been very successful in bringing it down, decreasing the numbers because of the social distancing.”
But he said it was vital “we don’t lose control again”.