There is no “perfect” way to reopen Britain’s economy after the coronavirus lockdown, the chief medical officer has said – as Boris Johnson urges the public to “enjoy summer safely”.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Friday ahead of the reopening of pubs, Professor Chris Whitty said the government was walking a “narrow path”.
“Either side of the path that we are on, there are risks. And we are going to have health problems, and economic problems, for sure,” he said.
The chief medical officer added: “There is no perfect time, there is no perfect, exact way of doing it.
“What this is is an attempt to balance, as best we can, in a way that makes it possible for society to be as close as possible to normal, whilst living alongside this virus – which we will have to continue to do.
“This virus is a long way from gone. But, it is not going to be gone for a very, very long time.”
At the same briefing, the prime minister said he would “not hesitate in putting on the brakes and reimposing restrictions” if cases started to rise again. But he suggested measures could be local in nature, as in Leicester.
“I don’t want to close all the pubs at all if we have a further outbreak,” he said.
“I don’t want to get back to another national lockdown of that kind. We want to deal with local outbreaks with local lockdown measures.”
But the prime minister refused to be drawn on what he thought of his father breaking travel advice to fly to his villa in northern Greece – and again defended Dominic Cummings.
“Durham Police made it clear they were not pursuing that,” he told the briefing.
“I make it a normal practice not to comment on the movements and doings of my family.
“When you look at what the British public have done over the last three months, it has been a phenomenal effort to follow the guidance and get this thing under control.
“People have worked together and done an absolutely heroic job. We have got to keep that going now.”
His dismissal of concerns follows a warning from independent scientific advisors that those close to the prime minister repeatedly breaking lockdown was endangering the pandemic response.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a leading expert in crowd psychology at the University of St Andrews who sits on the Independent Sage committee, told a presentation on Friday that the trips would make it harder to rebuild trust.
“Even in the Johnson family, I think we can allow that the prime minister is not his father’s keeper. I’m not sure he can control his behaviours,” he said.
“Nonetheless, the issue of trust is particularly important, and in fact the issue shows that in some ways trust is more important to compliance at this stage than under lockdown. The figures show that erosion of trust undermines people’s willingness to use the test-trace-isolate and support system and in particular to give information about themselves to authorities.
“One of the best ways of undermining trust is the notion that there’s one rule for them and one rule for us. It divides us from the authorities and there’s no doubt that this affects that perception in exactly the same way that the Cummings affair did, and at the very best it’s not helpful. You need to rebuild trust and in such a volatile situation I think everybody’s got a responsibility to make sure they don’t undermine trust.”
Mr Johnson said a candle would be lit outside No 10 on Saturday to commemorate all those who had died in the outbreak so far. He is also expected to host clinicians from the NHS hospital that saved his life in the Downing Street garden.
The government’s new “enjoy summer safely” slogan used by Boris Johnson is to be turned into a national information campaign with its own television adverts. Health secretary Matt Hancock said social distancing must be followed “or the virus will return”.