England has “probably” reached the limit of easing the coronavirus lockdown, or is close to it, the Chief Medical Officer declared today.
Chris Whitty warned a recent spike in cases means it may no longer be possible to ease social distancing measures any further.
And he signalled there could be new clampdowns to come in order to allow other areas – like schools – to reopen.
Prof Whitty said the rise showed we have “probably reached near the limit – or the limits – of what we can do in terms of opening up society.”
He added: “We are at the outer edge of what we can do”.
The grim comments shatter Boris Johnson’s claim just days ago that Brits could return to “significant normality” by Christmas.
And they throw the future of casinos, bowling alleys, theatres, sports stadiums and some beauty services – which all remain shut – into doubt.
Prof Whitty spoke as nationwide lockdown changes, due to take effect tomorrow, were today scrapped with hours to spare.
Plans to reopen bowling alleys, casinos and ice rinks in England from August 1 were postponed for at least two weeks after cases began to rise in England.
Data today concluded cases are now rising in England, the first time that has been recorded in a weekly ONS report since the end of May.
There were around 4,200 new cases per day in the community in England in the week to July 26 – up from 2,800 the week before and 1,700 the week before that.
Pilot schemes to restart socially distanced events such as indoor performances and large crowds at sporting events have also been put on hold.
Plans to allow wedding receptions of up to 30 people have also been postponed – as have plans to reopen remaining beauty services from tomorrow.
But a change in guidance advising employees to return to the workplace where possible from tomorrow, rather than working from home, will still go ahead.
And shielding for 2.2million vulnerable people will still end in the vast majority of England from tomorrow – despite fears of a second wave.
The Prime Minister was asked if there would have to be “trade-offs” to meet his goal of getting all pupils back in England’s schools from September 1.
He replied at a press conference: “Your basic point is a very good one about the trade-offs that we’re looking at here.
“I do believe getting our children back to school on September 1… that should be a national priority.”
And Prof Whitty spelt out the grim situation more clearly.
He said: “I think what we’re seeing from the data from ONS and other data is that we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society.
“So what that means potentially is that if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.
“And these will be difficult trade-offs, some of which will be decisions for government and some of which are for all of us as citizens to do.
“But we have to be realistic about this. The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.
“And what we’re seeing is that that we are at the outer edge of what we can do – and therefore, choices will need to be made.
“People I think are very clear, for example, that schools are an absolute priority for the welfare of children.”
Friday’s news came after local lockdown measures were announced in parts of the North West of England and areas of West Yorkshire, banning people from different households meeting indoors or in gardens following a spike in virus cases.
Mr Johnson told the briefing: “As we see these rises around the world, we can’t fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble.”
He added: “We cannot be complacent and I won’t stand by and allow this virus to threaten to cause more pain and more heartache in our country.
He said that, with numbers rising, “our assessment is that we should squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control”.