Brits were tonight sent a stark warning not to “wreck” lockdown after “worrying signs” that cases are rising in 20% of areas in England.
Jonathan Van-Tam used a Friday night No10 press conference to warn lockdown could be extended if people “relax” too much over a sunny weekend.
Speaking after one in five of England’s council areas saw a rise in cases, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer said: “Please don’t be tempted to think ‘well, one home visit might be all right now, weather ’s getting better, going to be a nice weekend.
“‘One small gathering in your house won’t really matter.’ I’m afraid it does.
“There are some worry signs that people are relaxing, taking their foot off the brake at exactly the wrong time.
“It’s a bit like being 3-0 up in a game and thinking ‘we can’t possibly lose’. But how many times have you seen the other side take it 4-3?
“Do not wreck this now. It is too early to relax. Just continue to maintain discipline and hang on just a few more months. Do not wreck this now. We are so close.”
He added: “I do worry that people think it’s all over.
“The more they think that when it’s not, the greater the headwind they’re going to give to the vaccine programme – and the more at risk will become the milestones set on the roadmap.
“It’s just a collective effort. It is actually up to us whether we can hold our nerve and see this through properly to the end of the roadmap or whether we’re going to fall at the last furlong.”
Boris Johnson gave the nation a taste of hope this week by unveiling his roadmap – which said pub beer gardens could open as early as April 12 and all restrictions could end as early as June 21.
And the number of first vaccine doses dished out in the UK today passed 19million – with experts confirming the second phase of the rollout will go to people in their 40s, then their 30s, then 18-29.
But yesterday The Mirror reported that 69 of England’s 315 local authority areas had recorded a rise in cases in the previous seven days.
Prof Van-Tam told today’s Downing Street briefing: “In some parts of the UK, case rates are changing, albeit slowly, but in the wrong direction.
“This is not a good sign, and reinforces the fact that, I’m afraid, this battle at the moment is not won.”
Matt Hancock told the public to “stick at” following the lockdown restrictions with more than a month to go before people can meet in groups of six in the park.
The Health Secretary told the Downing Street press conference the number of cases in England is down to one in 145 people but the rate of decline is “slowing”.
He said the rate of hospital admissions and deaths are still “far too high”, and one in five local authorities has seen a rise in case rates in the last week.
“This stark picture shows that this isn’t over yet, the stay at home rules are still in place for a reason,” he said.
“This is on all of us to keep this under control, this is still a deadly virus. We will get through this but we have to stick at it.”
Prof Van-Tam said there “were quite a few areas of the UK that are burning quite hot”, including in the Midlands and spreading up to the west coast of England.
Yet Mr Hancock said the government did not want to return to the regional tier system.
“We propose to come out of the national lockdown all together,” he said. “We don’t rule out taking local action in an individual area if we see a spike.
“But the goal is for us all to come out together.”