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Coronavirus: Loved ones reunite and children begin return to school – despite warnings over lockdown easing

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Children are starting to return to school in England and people are being reunited with loved ones from today, despite warnings it is too soon to start easing lockdown measures further.

The wider easing of measures now in place in England will allow groups of up to six people to meet in public spaces or private gardens, while extremely vulnerable “shielded” people can have more social interaction.

Primary school children in reception, year one and year six will return to class, and car showrooms and outdoor markets are reopening.

People enjoy the sunshine at St James Park in central London
The new rules also mean families and friends will be able to meet up for picnics and barbecues and travel freely around England, as long as they do not stay anywhere overnight that is not their primary home.
The government has stressed it is still vital to stick to social distancing measures, particularly staying two metres apart from anyone outside your household.

But scientists have criticised the further easing of measures, saying it is too much, too soon, and could cause coronavirus infections to rise rapidly again.

Ministers insist the government has met its five tests for easing the lockdown and say the rate of infection, or R value, has been consistently below one.

Over the weekend, many flocked to beaches and parks and there were numerous examples of people failing to follow social distancing measures – including an illegal street party in Hackney attended by “hundreds” of people.

It has prompted members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to warn that ministers are taking risks.

Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, told The Guardian the public was “not keeping to social distancing as it was”, adding the organisation was “increasingly concerned that the government is misjudging the balance of risk between more social interaction and the risk of a resurgence of the virus, and is easing too many restrictions too quickly”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also said the government’s “actions over the past 10 days have made difficult decisions more risky”.

“First, ministers have not yet got a fully functioning test, track and trace system in place; and second, the government’s public health message has been undermined because the prime minister was too weak to take firm action against Dominic Cummings for breaking lockdown,” he said.

Education unions are continuing to fight over whether it is safe to send children back to school, while many parents also seem reluctant to allow their children to return.

Headteachers say they are expecting almost half of families to keep pupils at home, according to a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

A survey by PA news agency also found more than 20 councils across England – largely in the north – are advising schools not to open to more pupils this week.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, said the public would be safe if they were “sensible” and did not “overdo it”.

“Where we are seeing that government is easing measures, the public really, really need to stick to those messages, and it is not just about what it is possible to do, it’s about what it is sensible to do, and what is sensible to do is have as few interactions as possible as you can with other people in all settings,” she told the daily press briefing on Sunday.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said he was “reasonably confident” the easing of restrictions will be “manageable”.

Referring to the R rate, Mr Jenrick said: “We have to all continue to play our part in that, because the rate of infection remains somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9 and the room for manoeuvre is quite limited.”

Restrictions are also being eased across the UK.

In Scotland, people will be allowed to meet others from one other household at a time in groups of up to eight people, so long as it is outdoors and social distancing is maintained.

People in Wales can meet up with others outdoors from Monday, but they are advised not to travel more than five miles.

In Northern Ireland, more shops can open and small outdoor weddings will be given the green light from 8 June if the infection rate is kept under control.

On Sunday, a further 113 people were reported to have died after contracting coronavirus, taking the UK total to 38,489.

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