A leading scientist and government adviser on the coronavirus pandemic has said Covid-19 case data is now sufficiently encouraging that outdoor sports for children and small groups of adults could be allowed with immediate effect.

Speakingto The Observer, Prof Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University, whose work is used by the Sage committee’s sub-group Spi-M, suggested that a major drop in coronavirus cases suggested that the Johnson government’s ban on outdoor sports was no longer necessary.

“The government has said the country’s exit from lockdown should be data-driven. Well, the data is extremely good, far better than anyone, including me, anticipated two or three weeks ago,” said Prof Woolhouse. “Hospitalisations, deaths, and case numbers have all plunged while vaccinations have already reached a quarter of the adult population.”

With reported coronavirus case numbers having plummeted, dropping to 10,104 confirmed cases on Saturday, the expert said the Boris Johnson government should be takin a “data-driven” approach to gradually easing lockdown restrictions, starting with lifting the ban on outdoor sport.

“The corollary is that if we plan to ease lockdown in a data-driven way, we should right now be looking at starting the process of coming out of lockdown earlier than we were thinking about two or three weeks ago. The data drive has to go both ways,” he said.

“This virus very rarely transmits outdoors. So, quite honestly, outdoor activities that don’t involve close physical contact could be adopted now,” Prof Woolhouse said.

“That is not an argument to say we can have crowds back at football matches,” he warned. “But sports involving small numbers of players or sports for children: they could start perfectly safely today.”

Other experts have stressed the need for caution in lifting coronavirus measures that have been credited with having brought numbers down, with Epidemiologist Anne Johnson of University College London telling The Observer that it is “still too soon to unlock”.

“Although all the indicators are in the right direction, it is still too soon to unlock – if we open up too quickly there is a danger we could set off another big wave of infections,” the expert said. “However, we can see the green shoots of spring beginning to show.”

The comments come as the prime minister has pledged to see all adults in the UK offered their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by the end of July.

Mr Johnson said the accelerated vaccine rollout would help ease coronavirus restrictions, but he maintained that measures would be lifted with a “cautious and phased” approach.



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