Crowds of people in restaurants and bars in Soho, London, where outdoor seating is allowed following a lift in COVID restrictions.
The UK has hit the highest daily rate of COVID cases in the world even as most remaining lockdown restrictions have been lifted in England on “freedom day”.
England’s coronavirus lockdown measures were eased on Monday, with nightclubs, theatres, pubs and restaurants now able to reopen without any caps or restrictions.
There is also no longer a legal requirement to wear face masks, while limits on social gatherings have been scrapped and work-from-home guidance has ended.
But as measures ease, the UK reported there were 47,848 new coronavirus cases on Sunday – the highest number of new infections that day of any country in the world, according to Our World In Data.
The figure is a 1,087% increase since 28 May, when the UK reported just 4,030 new cases.
The increase has been attributed to the Delta virus variant, first detected in India, which continues to spread across England.
Crowds of people in restaurants and bars in Soho, London, where outdoor seating is allowed following a lift in COVID restrictions. (Belinda Jiao/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Indonesia had the second highest number of new daily cases and India the third, with 44,721 and 38,164 cases reported respectively on Sunday.
Case numbers in the UK have been predicted to rise as high as 200,000 later this summer as measures are lifted.
Critics are continuing to express concern that the government is coming out of the lockdown too soon.
Boris Johnson has urged the country to proceed “cautiously” after the unlocking.
In a video posted on Twitter, the prime minister said: “If we don’t do it now we’ve got to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it?
“But we’ve got to do it cautiously. We’ve got to remember that this virus is sadly still out there. Cases are rising, we can see the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant.”
On Monday, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted the government was “doing the right thing”, despite the current case numbers.
He told Sky News on Monday: “It is a step forward, an important step forward – there is no perfect time to take this step, this is as good a time as any as (Professor) Chris Whitty has said, with the summer holidays and schools being out, which will hopefully bear down on the R number, the transition rate.”
He added: “So I’m confident that we are doing the right thing.
“I think the vaccination programme has allowed us to take this step, to take it cautiously with this wall of protection among adults in the United Kingdom.”
Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling led to the first lockdown in March 2020 – said daily cases could reach 200,000 before the current wave of the pandemic finally peaks.
He said that could result in 2,000 hospital admissions a day, leading to “major disruption” and further backlogs in NHS services.
As cases rise, thousands of people are being forced to miss work and self-isolate after being “pinged” by the NHS COVID app as part of what’s been dubbed the “pingdemic”.
Businesses have been pressing for the app to be overhauled and made less sensitive due to concerns that staff shortages mean firms cannot operate effectively.
Johnson’s spokesman said on Friday that the app was “working as it is designed to do” amid reports that there are no plans to change its sensitivity.
The PM and chancellor Rishi Sunak are is currently self-isolating after being notified by the app following a contact with health secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for coronavirus.
They both initially tried to get round the requirement to quarantine by saying they would join a daily workplace testing programme being trialled by the Cabinet Office.
However, they were forced into a hasty U-turn amid widespread public anger at their “special treatment”, which would have come while tens of thousands of people were being forced to miss work or school and stay home.