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No ‘current’ risk of second Covid peak overwhelming NHS, says Prime Minister

The Prime Minister has announced a significant easing of the lockdown in England, saying the Government does ‘not believe there is currently a risk’ of a second Covid-19 spike overwhelming the NHS.

From 4 July, the two metre social distancing rule will be reduced to one metre, although people should keep two metres apart when they can.

Other easing measures include two households being allowed to meet indoors, including overnight stays, while bars, restaurants, hairdressers and playgrounds will be allowed to reopen.

The Prime Minister also said that going forward, social distancing measures will be based on guidance rather than legislation.

Justifying the decision, Boris Johnson said: ‘While we remain vigilant, we do not believe there is currently a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS.’

He said this comes as the Government’s tests for controlling the virus continue to be met and as the chief medical officers ‘have downgraded the UK Covid alert level from four to three, meaning we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, though it remains in general circulation’.

The Prime Minister added that ‘caution will remain’ and said each step of the lockdown easing is ‘conditional and reversible’.

Regarding the relaxation of the two-metre rule, Mr Johnson said: ‘Where it is possible to keep two metres apart people should but where it is not we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre plus – meaning they should remain one metre apart, while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.’

He also said that ‘from now on’ the Government ‘will ask people to follow guidance on social contact instead of legislation’.

His statement follows yesterday’s announcement that it will be safe to pause the shielding programme in England from 1 August and relax shielding advice from 6 July.

However, the Government said that the shielding programme would be restarted if there was a second peak of the virus.

To that effect, it is developing a new algorithm with the University of Oxford, which it wants GPs to use to rewrite the shielding list based on a better understanding of who is most vulnerable to the virus compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘We understand the urgent need to kickstart the economy, but we must be careful not to use the easing of restrictions as a “green light” to return to our previous way of life.

‘We aren’t going back to normal but will have to get used to a “new” normal and there is a very real risk that all the good work we have achieved so far in the battle against Covid-19 could be very swiftly undone, with very serious consequences.

‘We must ensure we continue to act sensibly and vigilantly – still following good hygiene measures and the appropriate social distancing guidelines to prevent a second wave of infection.

‘To continue a safe and successful lifting of lockdown and prevent a second wave of infection, it is essential that an effective test and trace system is implemented, in which GPs and other health care professionals and the general public can have trust and confidence in.’