Boris Johnson yesterday set a ten-day target to deliver a virus tracing system that could allow the lockdown to be eased.
He said a 25,000-strong army of trackers had been recruited to identify the contacts of infected victims and prevent outbreaks.
The Government’s scientific advisers insist the system must be in place before any more restrictions are lifted. If the scheme is up and running in time some schools and shops could reopen as early as June 1.
Rules limiting social contact could also be relaxed at that point, with a decision due at the end of next week.
But the lockdown was put in jeopardy yesterday by thousands of sunseekers who flocked to beaches on the hottest day of the year.
Devon and Cornwall Police said roads in some resorts were gridlocked, despite pleas for families to stay away. ‘Any decision on the lockdown is conditional on advice that we can move forward without risking a second spike – we are not there yet,’ said a Whitehall source.
‘Hopefully the test-and-trace system will give people confidence in the measures we are taking.’ Just 637 hospital admissions for coronavirus were reported on Tuesday and no new cases at all in London for the day before.
That compares with around 1,000 a day at the peak of the pandemic. Experts cautioned that a lag in recording could see that revised upward however.
The death toll rose by 363 to 35,704 on Tuesday while tests hit a record 177,216. Mr Johnson told the Commons the tracing scheme was almost ready, despite problems with a government app that was meant to help the process.
‘We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place by June 1,’ he said.
As Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden revealed plans to allow the UK tourism industry to reopen in July:
Travel bosses warned a plan to quarantine arrivals would devastate UK businesses;
Families of foreign NHS and care staff who have lost relatives to the virus were granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK;
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland became the first senior figure to acknowledge the Government had prioritised the NHS over care homes;
The PM hinted he might reshuffle his top team following criticism of the Government’s handling of the crisis; n Mr Dowden urged the BBC to think again about axeing free TV licences for over-75s;
He also announced a ‘Cultural Renewal Taskforce’ to help get theatres, museums and other activities going again;
A study by University College London found more than half of young adults are no longer sticking to the lockdown strictly;
Officials plan to give NHS and social care staff antibody tests revealing whether they have had coronavirus;
The Bank of England was reportedly considering using negative interest rates for the first time in its 324-year history;
Contact tracing is a tried and trusted method for controlling epidemics and has been used successfully in South Korea to keep infections at very low levels.
The UK Government abandoned it in the middle of March because of a lack of testing capacity. Mr Johnson said the army of trackers would be capable of tracing the contacts of up to 10,000 new cases a day. Anyone who contracts the virus will be asked to detail all those they have had recent contact with.
These people will then be advised to take a coronavirus test or self-isolate. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the failure to conduct tracing for ten weeks had left ‘a huge hole in our defences’.
Dame Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, said on Tuesday that all the modelling for changes to the lockdown was based on a ‘highly effective track, trace and isolate system’ being in place.
Infections expert Professor Hugh Pennington said Mr Johnson’s pledge of ‘world-beating’ tracing was good news’ but added: ‘It’s taken a long time. As to world-beating, we’ve been beaten by quite a few other countries’.
Thousands of locked-down Britons crammed onto packed beaches to bask in 82F (28C) sunshine on the hottest day of the year so far yesterday with cars from all over the country causing gridlock in some places, to the fury of locals.
Devon and Cornwall Police said traffic was ‘exceptionally busy’, with officers reporting that every set of double yellow lines across a mile stretch of beach had been parked on as several car parks were closed to control numbers. There were reports some traffic wardens had even run out of tickets.
Saunton Sands beach car park, near Braunton in Devon, was described as ‘looking like August’, with nearby Woolacombe the site of huge, shocking queues of traffic.
One police officer tweeted: ‘Every double yellow line from Woolacombe to Morthoe is covered with cars and vans. Cars mounting pavements to get by whilst pedestrians try to cross the road. All the offences have been recorded and will be processed in due course.’
Richard Walden, 55, of Woolacombe, took a picture from his house showing gridlocked traffic snaking back as far as the eye could see, while other photos showed a huge line of traffic on the approach to the area.
Mr Walden said: ‘It is unbelievable the amount of thoughtless visitors we have had, parking illegally and causing the roads to be blocked and preventing use of the footpath. They blocked the whole footpath. There is no way a fire engine or ambulance could get down that. It is totally senseless.’
Sunbathers made the most of their new-found freedom following the easing of lockdown restrictions as London’s St James’s Park saw a high of 79.16F (26.2C) around 3pm on Tuesday – beating 2020’s previous top temperature of 78.8F (26C) set last month.
The sunshine is set to continue for most of the UK on Wednesday, with the mercury expected to hit 82F (28C), with rain and thunderstorms set to hit tomorrow.
Car parks were crammed as sun worshippers visited Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset, as parking restrictions were lifted in many areas several days ago, while vehicles clogged up country lanes at a popular tourist spot in Devon, forcing police to block off roads and warn people to stay away.
But despite the dry weather, there is an outside chance the UK could see an isolated shower in East Anglia over the afternoon.