PM urges caution as restrictions easing coincides with warm weather spell
The Prime Minister has urged people to remain cautious as the relaxation of lockdown measures in England coincides with an ongoing “exceptionally warm” spell of weather.
Across the country on Monday, people made the most of sunny conditions and the easing of rules which means groups of up to six, or two households, are now able to socialise in parks and gardens while outdoor sports facilities can reopen.
The lifting of some restrictions saw golfers return to the fairways and swimmers take the plunge in outdoor pools as temperatures rose.
According to the Met Office, the mercury reached 20.4C (68.7F) at St James’s Park in central London and Writtle in Essex on Monday – the highest temperature recorded in the UK this year.
Temperatures are set to climb further above average and could yet top 24C (75.2F) on Wednesday in an area covering London, East Anglia and the East Midlands, the Met Office said.
Boris Johnson acknowledged Monday was a “big day” for many people as they could reunite in socially-distanced friend and family groups outdoors for the first time in weeks.
The Prime Minister said he hoped people would take advantage of the “beautiful weather” to play sport or exercise, while also emphasising the country should still “proceed with caution”.
“I know how much Government has asked of the people in the last year, but I also know how magnificently – incredible patience and fortitude – people have responded,” he told a Downing Street press conference on Monday.
“It’s my view, overwhelmingly, people are determined to continue to do that and they do understand the need for caution.”
Separately, Mr Johnson, along with 23 world leaders including Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, wrote in The Daily Telegraph and other papers across the world about the need to form a “new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response”, adding: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”
Amid fears of a new wave of coronavirus spreading from Europe, Mr Johnson highlighted that it was still not clear how “robust” the defences provided by the Covid-19 vaccination programme would prove if such a rise in infections hits the UK.
“What we don’t know is exactly how strong our fortifications now are, how robust our defences are against another wave,” he said.
“We have seen what is happening with our European friends. Historically, at least there has been a time lag and then we have had a wave ourselves.
“That’s why I stress the importance of everybody maintaining the discipline people have shown for so long.”
An Ipsos Mori poll suggested Britons are much less concerned about Covid-19 than they were a month ago.
The survey of 1,009 adults in early March found 49% of people felt the pandemic was a big issue for the UK, down from 72% in February.
Mike Clemence, associate research director at the polling firm, said: “Concern is notably lower among older age groups, which may suggest the vaccination campaign is having an impact on public perceptions – although worries are also lower among the youngest Britons who will not yet have been vaccinated.”
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said there was a “high likelihood” cases would rise as lockdown restrictions were steadily lifted under the Government’s road map.
He added, however, that the impact should be “modest” if people continued to follow social-distancing guidelines.
“If people stick to social distancing rules and they are outside, the risk of transmission is massively lower than if they are very close together and inside,” Prof Whitty said.
“Provided people stick to outdoors and at a distance if it’s people who are not in their households, the impact in terms of an uptick should be modest.”
Temperatures in March have not gone above 24C (75.2F) since March 29, 1968, when 25.6C (78F) was recorded in Mepal in Cambridgeshire.
Steven Keates, a Met Office meteorologist, said: “If we do get above 24 it will be the highest UK March temperature in 53 years. It seems a reasonable chance that’s going to happen.”
He added: “It’s an exceptionally warm spell of weather with potential for some records to be challenged.”
Mr Keates said conditions would turn “cooler” through Thursday ahead of the arrival of the Easter weekend.
He said Scotland’s highest temperature of the year was equalled by the 19.3C (66.7F) at Aboyne in Aberdeenshire on Monday and a new top temperature for 2021 so far in Northern Ireland was set by the 17.3C (63.1F) recorded at Helen’s Bay in County Down.
In Wales, the stay local order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.
The stay home order in Scotland is to end on Friday, while in Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.