Boris Johnson has said he will take responsibility for a second wave of coronavirus infections after his latest easing of the lockdown.
Earlier on Tuesday, Johnson announced the most significant easing of restrictions since the lockdown was imposed on 23 March.
From 4 July in England, social distancing guidelines will be reduced from two metres to one metre, two households will be allowed to meet and stay overnight, and businesses such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be able to reopen.
Asked at Tuesday’s coronavirus press conference if he will take responsibility “whatever happens next”, Johnson said: “Yes, of course, I take responsibility, the government takes responsibility, for these decisions.
“We are indebted to our scientific colleagues for their advice continually, but it is our responsibility to choose.”
It came as Downing Street’s top COVID-19 advisers, Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty, used the briefing to sound caution about the easing of the restrictions.
Prof Whitty, for example, urged people to carry on staying two metres apart from one another where possible.
He also warned there will certainly be a spike in cases if people don’t take the new measures seriously.
“If people hear a distorted version of what’s being said, that says ‘this is all fine now, it’s gone away’ and start behaving in ways that they normally would have before this virus happened, yes we will get an uptick for sure.”
Prof Whitty, who is England’s chief medical officer, said the lifting of restrictions is “absolutely not risk-free” and “it is absolutely critical people stick to the guidance”.
Prof Whitty also warned the virus is likely to be in circulation in the “winter and into next spring”.
Johnson himself admitted Prof Whitty had concerns about pubs reopening. The PM added: “We can’t have great writhing scenes in the beer gardens when the virus could be passed on.
“This has to be done in a sensible way.”
Tuesday’s briefing was the final daily coronavirus press conference. Downing Street said they will now only be held for “significant announcements”.
The daily briefings began on 16 March, when the number of COVID-19 cases was beginning to rapidly accelerate.