Public urged to socialise outside, keep their distance and ‘hug cautiously’

Professor Sir Mark Walport warned that the pandemic is at a “perilous moment”

People should socialise outside as far as possible, maintain social distancing and “hug cautiously” as coronavirus restrictions ease, a former chief scientific adviser to the Government has said.

From Monday in England, people will be able to socialise indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants, and physical contact between households will be permitted for the first time in more than a year.

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‘People have got to be sensibly cautious’

People should socialise outside as far as possible, maintain social distancing and “hug cautiously” as coronavirus restrictions ease (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned that the pandemic is at a “perilous moment” and said it will be “extremely important” to keep a close eye on the numbers over the next few weeks.

He said he will be staying outdoors as far as possible despite Monday’s relaxation of restrictions.

Scientists are concerned that the Indian variant of Covid-19 could be 50% more transmissible than the Kent strain.

Sir Mark told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday vulnerable people who have not been vaccinated “really need to get vaccinated”, adding: “Because if you haven’t had a vaccine you really must have one actually. There’s no good reasons for not.

Sir Mark told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday vulnerable people who have not been vaccinated “really need to get vaccinated” (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

“So that’s the important thing. But then it is I think a question of people making judgments and you know my personal judgment is that I will do things outside as far as possible.”

Asked if he would avoid indoor pub tables, he said: “For the moment, yes.”

Sir Mark said if people are doing things inside they should make sure windows are open and the room properly ventilated.

He said he thinks complete normality “is going to take a bit of time to return, and people have got to be sensibly cautious”.

Asked what his advice would be to people on Monday, Sir Mark said: “Well my advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

“As far as possible socialise outside, maintain social distancing, if you’re going to hug, hug cautiously.”

Ms Ridge asked: "How did you hug cautiously?"

Sir Mark joked: "We will have to create demonstrations, tight clinches should be possible.

The Sky News presenter added: "Cautious hugging, I love it."

‘Should be concerned but not panicking’

Meanwhile, Professor John Edmunds said while the Indian variant is a “new threat” the UK is in a much better position compared to before Christmas when the Kent variant was detected.

Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, he said: “I think we should be concerned but not panicking. We’re in a much, much better place now than we were when the Kent variant first hit us back in November, December.”

He added: “Now the hospitals are empty, thankfully, or virtually empty of Covid patients and two-thirds of the adult population have been vaccinated.”

Prof Edmunds said if things deteriorate quickly with the new variant, action will have to be taken.

“I think we have to monitor this very carefully, I don’t think we should rule anything out. So if things look like they’re getting worse rapidly then I do think that action needs to be taken.”

He said it is “very early days” when it comes to this variant, adding: “I think that we are still quite uncertain about many, many things including the effectiveness of the vaccines.”

Outlining two approaches which could be taken to tackle the spread of the new variant, he said one was to “try and stamp on it locally” while another would be an attempt to “improve vaccine coverage across the UK as best as possible, and let’s see how it goes”.

Asked whether all restrictions are likely to end on June 21 as planned, Prof Edmunds said: “I think we’ll know much more about that in the next few weeks as we see how this variant spreads and the impact that it’s going to have.

“I think at the moment it’s a bit too early to say.”

Elsewhere, Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), was asked if the JCVI would look again at the recommendation that people under 40 should be offered non-AstraZeneca jabs if it means that it could speed up the rollout.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “Yes absolutely, that’s on the agenda, and if necessary that’s something that could be done.

“When we expressed a preference for non-AstraZeneca vaccines for this age group it was done in a very provisional way on the basis of everything going absolutely right.

“And if the evidence shows that the risk benefit balance for people in their 30s is to be offered that vaccine then absolutely that recommendation will be changed.

“At the moment we don’t think that’s necessary, but it could well become a recommendation in the future.”