BRITAIN is “winning the battle against coronavirus,” Matt Hancock has declared, but he also urged people not to breach the lockdown rules as the disease was “not done yet”.

The remarks by the UK Government Health Secretary followed alarm at weekend pictures showing packed beaches and parks, which preceded an easing of certain restrictions in England, which included a return to the classroom for hundreds of thousands of primary schoolchildren.

Jeanelle de Gruchy, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health, made clear public health directors were “increasingly concerned the Government is misjudging this balancing act and lifting too many restrictions, too quickly".

At the daily Downing St press conference, Mr Hancock argued the latest data showed that the Government’s action plan was working, which meant it could make some “cautious, small and positive steps” in easing the lockdown south of the Border.

These not only included the reopening of primary schools but also allowing groups of up to six people to meet outside and the reopening of outdoor markets and car showrooms; all based on the proviso that the social distancing rules are maintained.

Stressing how such decisions were “balanced judgements,” which had been very carefully and cautiously considered, the Cabinet minister said: “We must all remember that in the war against this virus, we are all on the same side.

“We have come so far together, we can take these steps together, but do not step too far; the disease is not done yet. We mustn’t throw away the progress that has been made, so please take your responsibilities seriously.”

In the latest numbers, the Secretary of State highlighted the downward trends such as how across the UK the number of confirmed cases at 1,570 was the lowest since March 25 and the number of people in hospital at 7,541 was down from 8,830 at the same point a week ago.

However, the UK death toll continues to rise. The daily increase was 111 - the lowest since the lockdown began on March 23 - taking the total to 39,045 of those who were confirmed as having the coronavirus with a positive test. Other figures, which include those also suspected of dying of Covid-19, push the total beyond 45,000.

Mr Hancock also made clear that should the virus begin to spike again, then restrictions would be reimposed.

“We have always said that we are prepared to reintroduce measures - whether that is nationally or in response to a localised outbreak - if that is necessary."

The Health Secretary for England explained how there was a range of measures available to combat local flare-ups of the coronavirus such as "shutting to new admissions a hospital A&E if there was an outbreak in that hospital".

Local directors of public health would work with regional Public Health England and NHS teams "to make sure we got the response right".

The newly-created Joint Biosecurity Centre would have a national role "to provide the advice and the information that would then be acted on locally".

It would advise the UK's chief medical officers who would then report to ministers and local health bodies.

On the Government’s new test and trace programme, Mr Hancock insisted it was now "up and running" and was "successful" following reports of problems with technology and staff saying they were being paid up to £27.75 per hour for doing nothing.

Asked during the daily briefing why some contact tracers had no work to do, he pointed out how 25,000 had been hired and that it was a good thing there were so many.

"It's successful,” declared the Secretary of State. “I'm very glad to report that those who are asked to isolate by the contact tracers are expressing the willingness to do so and we track that very carefully.

"The level of incidence of disease has come down and so actually we have more capacity than we need, this is a good thing.

“To err on the side of having too many contact tracers is the right side to err on. I'd rather have too many people trained and ready to go," he added.

Professor John Newton, the Government's testing tzar, also insisted the system was working well, adding: "We do have a lot of capacity." He later suggested the figures to back up the claims of success would be made available soon.

However, Jonathan Ashworth for Labour said: “A successful functioning test, trace and isolate regime is vital for safe easing of lockdown. But the Health Secretary failed yet again to reveal the numbers of people actually tested nor could he tell us how many contacts have been traced so far despite boasting that the test and trace system was now ‘up and running’ and ‘successful.’

“We urge the Health Secretary to reveal this data in his Commons statement on Tuesday. Transparency is crucial to building public confidence,” he added.

Sir Ed Davey for the Liberal Democrats also expressed concern the Government had decided not to make the test and trace data quickly available to the public.

“The Government claims to be ‘led by the science’ but with members of SAGE publicly warning against its policy and little access to data about test, trace isolate, a science-led approach is looking like a threadbare claim..

Claiming the press conference raised even more concerns about lockdown beginning to be lifted too early, the party’s acting leader added: “The Government approach to coronavirus is becoming increasingly confused and chaotic whilst the majority of people just want clarity so they can keep safe.”

As the UK Government announced a change that would allow clinically extremely vulnerable people, who are shielding themselves at home, to venture outside for the first time in 10 weeks – a change that is not yet happening in Scotland – Mr Hancock was asked at the daily briefing why there could not be more of a synchronised UK-wide approach on such matters.

The Secretary of State pointed out the Government had "worked very closely and very hard" with the devolved administrations to try to ensure that lockdown easing changes were made on a UK-wide basis.

"We face this virus as one country and to the very large extent that is what has happened; there are some minor differences but the major principles of the changes and the lockdown rules are the same," he explained.

However later, Mr Hancock noted: “Legally, of course, the powers to be able to implement the lockdown are devolved and so I respect the Scottish Government’s right to take different decisions should they want to – they have taken some slightly different decisions – therefore, it’s a consequence of devolution.

“But the overall responsibility for public health emergencies is, of course, a UKwide one and we make sure we do move as closely as possible given the different situations on the ground and the slightly different shape of the pandemic in Scotland,” he added.