An Easter weekend blow-out could risk the UK being plunged into a fourth lockdown, experts are warning.
Scientists have sounded the alarm after the easing of gathering rules coincided with balmy weather, luring massive crowds to parks and beaches up and down the country.
While many stuck to the rules and enjoyed the sunshine with small groups of pals, authorities slammed revellers who crowded together in huge groups and brawled in parks this week.
Scenes of massive crowds at Hyde Park in Leeds and hundreds who gathered at a rule-breaking meet-up in Manchester city centre were among the rule flouters this week, as some blatantly ignored the rule-of-six restrictions.
Police cracked down in Nottingham after a boozy brawl broke out as hundreds of students gathered in the Arboretum Recreation Ground.
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Authorities said they would beginning seizing alcohol from people entering parks from Tuesday this week following the fracas as footage emerged online of people ignoring social distancing rules.
Images of parks around England strewn with litter and empty cans and bottles following the first days of lockdown easing caused widespread dismay.
There has been no suggestion from the Government of a fourth lockdown, as the vaccination rollout continues to dramatically drive down daily deaths and case numbers.
But experts have warned if people mingle too closely over Easter weekend the virus could begin spreading rapidly again.
Indoor mixing between households remains banned under England’s lockdown rules.
The warning comes as Europe grapples with a third wave of the virus, which this week saw France plunged into yet another lockdown.
Europe’s vaccination programme has lagged behind Britain’s.
And official data this week confirmed roughly half of the UK population now has Covid antibodies.
But young adults yearning for freedom from Covid rules are being warned to stay vigilant as they face a delay in the vaccination queue, after a bumper start to the rollout that saw the jabs effort pass 30million first doses is set for a slowdown.
Professor Lawrence Young told the Sun Online people should not grow complacent about the risks of mingling outdoors as he urged people to follow distancing rules when they met with pals.
He said: “The virus is still out there and very infectious.
“While the risk of transmission is low in outdoor spaces, crowding together could result in some spread of the virus and it’s too easy to take liberties which we consider to be low risk but aren’t e.g. close contact by hugging or popping inside to go to somebody else’s toilet.
“We need to hang on in there with the current restrictions for a bit longer – none of us want another lockdown.”
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) warned the huge crowds he saw in Bristol Harbour area could put the lockdown easing plan at risk.
He tweeted: “Throngs of young people crowded together in their hundreds enjoying the beautiful warm evening together by the water.
“A complete change. If this is happening everywhere then we can confidently expect case numbers to rise next week.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned Brits “don’t blow it” as he told Sky News: “This is a very strange, very dangerous virus and it’s yet another reason for everybody to be cautious.
“Enjoy the sunshine, by all means, but nobody is safe from this virus until we can make everybody safe.”