LONDON (AFP) - Medical experts on Wednesday (June 24) warned the British government to prepare for the "real risk" of a coronavirus second wave just a day after the biggest lifting yet of lockdown restrictions in England.
"While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk," said the experts in an open letter printed in the British Medical Journal.
The letter added that the overriding task was "to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase".
It was signed by 16 leading experts, including the heads of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Nursing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced what he called the beginning of the end of "national hibernation", allowing the reopening of large parts of the hospitality, culture and tourism sectors in England from July 4.
That includes pubs, hotels, restaurants, museums and galleries. The 2m social distancing rule, in place since March, was also relaxed to 1m, subject to measures such as the use of face coverings.
The decision was seen as vital to large parts of the economy, which faces recession and large-scale job losses after more than three months of closure and stay-at-home restrictions.
But the decision to effectively lift the lockdown was immediately questioned.
A former government chief scientific adviser, David King, told Sky News television that the move was "extraordinarily risky", and a political decision rather than a scientific one.
Alok Sharma, the government's business secretary, told the broadcaster the lifting of the restrictions was justified and there was no "divergence between making sure people keep safe and protecting livelihoods".
Britain has recorded nearly 43,000 deaths of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 - the worst toll in Europe - and announced another 171 fatalities on Tuesday.
However, the real figure is likely closer to 60,000, based on an analysis of excess deaths.
The relaxation announced by Johnson on Tuesday applies only to England as the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh devolved administrations set their own guidelines.