Monday 1 June 2020 7:25 am

UK and Italy seek to further ease lockdowns as scientists urge caution

European countries like the UK and Italy are readying themselves to ease lockdown measures further despite scientists urging caution as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

The UK is still seeing a steady rise in coronavirus infections but governments face pressure to restart their economies after Europe’s lockdowns triggered the biggest peacetime downturn on record.

Read more: London business confidence rises but gloom remains as lockdown eased

The European Commission predicts coronavirus will produce a GDP hit of 7.7 per cent in 2020. And it predicts the UK economy will shrink by 8.3 per cent.

Some schools and outdoor markets are set to reopen today in line with social distancing measures in the UK. And competitive horse racing events are set to restart, while 2m vulnerable people at higher risk from coronavirus are now being allowed outside.

Non-essential shops like clothing retailers and bookshops are set to be able to reopen from 15 June under UK guidelines. Meanwhile, the Premier League will return from 17 June.

“We’ll have to take further restrictive measures if we find any uptick in the virus,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC yesterday. 

He added that “we can’t just stay in lockdown forever”.

Another 1,936 people tested positive for coronavirus yesterday in the UK, where confirmed cases have hit 276,156, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Read more: Coronavirus: 2m ‘shielding’ in UK allowed outside from Monday

And top scientific advisers warned against reopening the economy too quickly given the UK’s high death toll of 38,489.

“Unlocking too fast carries a great risk that all the good work that’s been put in by everyone to try to reduce transmission may be lost,” Professor Peter Openshaw, scientific adviser to the government, said on BBC.

Across the world, countries have now counted 6,170,556 infections and 372,099 deaths.

Italy, too, is moving to reopen its economy after protests in favour of loosening lockdown took place in Rome and Milan last weekend.

“Italy has been able to get the virus under control,” Silvio Brusaferro, head of the ISS public health institute, told daily la Repubblica. “Monitoring allows us to pinpoint any signs of higher virus circulation and take measures accordingly.”

Read more: Italian and French economies crash in first quarter as coronavirus bites

Italy’s economy shrank 5.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, with some forecasts predicting a double-digit plunge this year.

Meanwhile, Germany, has been reopening its economy more slowly. It plans to allow tourists from abroad to visit from 15 June, and will hold the Frankfurt Book Fair under strict social distancing measures in October.