Coronavirus mass gatherings in parks, beaches and protests have 'not increased infections yet'

Screen grab of Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific advisor, said there has been no rise in infections following recent scenes of mass gatherings. (PA)

The government's top scientist has said there has been no “uptick in coronavirus infections” following recent mass gatherings at beaches and parks as well as during protests.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief medical advisor for England, said there is currently no evidence that the crowded beaches, packed parks and Black Lives Matter protests seen in recent weeks have led to a rise in cases.

Vallance made the comments during a special Downing Street press conference chaired by Boris Johnson ahead of Saturday’s easing of lockdown rules in England – apart from in Leicester, which saw lockdown restrictions reimposed after a surge in COVID-19 infections.

He told Friday’s press briefing: “We haven’t seen any (uptick of infection) from these events yet, that doesn’t mean that we won’t but we haven’t yet.

“The same has been true in other countries where outdoor events have taken place, there hasn’t yet been any indication we’ve had an uptick but it is obviously something that needs to be looked for.”

Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).
Boris Johnson unveiled new coronavirus guidelines ahead of a further easing of lockdown restrictions from 4 July. (PA)
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It comes on the same day the government published new lockdown guidance that, for the first time, makes it illegal for more than 30 people to gather in public spaces or households that are “not COVID-19-secure.”

The legislation was passed just hours ahead of the reopening of pubs and the hospitality industry from 6am on Saturday morning.

During the briefing, the chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, said there were still enormous risks that if individuals, families and companies do not take social distancing rules seriously then the “possibility of a second wave goes up sharply”.

However he emphasised that mass gatherings indoors when different households are brought together in close proximity - such as going to a pub - provide the “biggest risk” in spreading the virus.

People are seen on the beach on the hottest day of the year, after an easing of social restrictions due to coronavirus, in Bournemouth, England, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Temperatures reached 32.6C (90.7F) at London's Heathrow Airport on Wednesday. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)
People are seen on the beach on the hottest day of the year, after an easing of social restrictions due to coronavirus, in Bournemouth, England, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Temperatures reached 32.6C (90.7F) at London's Heathrow Airport on Wednesday. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

Prof Whitty added that “there is no perfect, exact way” of easing lockdown as he discussed the balancing act being undertaken, adding: “We are going to have health problems, and economic problems, for sure.”

Valance added that such indoor environments is where “super spreading” is much more likely to take place.

Last week Bournemouth declared a major incident when its beach was crowded as thousands of people descended on the town.

And concerns were raised over the Black Lives Matter protests last month, which saw thousands of people take to the streets across the UK in cities such as London, Birmingham and Bristol following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in the US.

Liverpool soccer fans let off flares outside the Liver Building in Liverpool, England, Friday, June 26, 2020. Fans are being urged to celebrate the club's Premier League triumph at home as police believe more gatherings are planned after thousands filled the streets outside Anfield stadium. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)
Liverpool soccer fans let off flares outside the Liver Building in Liverpool, England, Friday, June 26, 2020. Fans are being urged to celebrate the club's Premier League triumph at home as police believe more gatherings are planned after thousands filled the streets outside Anfield stadium. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)
Participants hold placards in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Hyde Park, London, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. Picture date: Wednesday June 3, 2020.
Participants hold placards in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Hyde Park, London, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. Picture date: Wednesday June 3, 2020.

As of Saturday, businesses such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen under the new guidelines while two households will be allowed to meet up indoors and stay overnight.

During the briefing Boris Johnson urged the British public to drink responsibly hours before pubs welcomed customers, and said: “I'm going to buy a pint”.

The prime minister urged the public to “enjoy summer safely” so the ailing economy can be boosted without causing the virus to spread uncontrollably.

Johnson also said the government would next week set out a timetable for the reopening of still-shuttered businesses including gyms, swimming pools and theatres.

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