England‘s lockdown easing could lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases but there will “never be zero risk” from catching the disease — regardless of what restrictions are in place, a leading scientist has said.

Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick and a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling said Britons should manage the risks by continuing to follow social distancing guidelines and wearing face masks.

His comments came as England’s Covid rules were significantly relaxed on Monday to allow non-essential shops to reopen, with pubs and restaurants serving people outside.

Crowds have been flocking back to the high street to shop, while some braved the early morning cold for a drink following months of social isolation. Hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons and gyms have also reopened.

There are fears that loosening the rules could lead to a spike in new infections. When asked if lockdown easing could result in a resurgence of the virus, Dr Tildesley told Times Radio it was “hard to tell” what effect the changes might have, but warned more mixing “could lead to higher risk”.

“All the signs are pretty good at the moment – cases have been going down for many weeks now, we’re seeing hospital admissions and deaths go down to very low numbers, and we really hope that continue,” he said.

“It is great news that people can get out and go to non-essential shops and go to pubs and restaurants and so forth. But of course, follow the guidelines that are still in place.”

He added: “We should never say there can’t be any transmission if we follow those rules, what we’re doing is we’re trying to minimise the risk of transmission as much as possible.

“By taking these precautions there is never going to be zero risk, there’s always the possibility that even with those precautions you could get infected but you’re minimising your own risk of being infected and also potentially passing the virus on.”

Dr Tildesley said “we’re not there yet” in terms of socialising indoors – which carries a higher risk of transmission.

Meanwhile, Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government, raised concerns about a third wave of infections in Chile — despite a significant proportion of the country has had a vaccine.

Asked about the easing of lockdown restrictions in England, he told Sky News: “From the point of view of the population itself, we’re all dying to get out of lockdown.

“From the point of view of the epidemic, I think it’s all a little bit more worrying.”

He added: “Chile is a country where the rate of vaccination amongst the population was third highest in the world – they were ahead of us in terms of the number of people who have had the vaccine – and they’re suddenly now into a third wave.

“They now have 7,600 cases a day and the total number of people in Chile now who have Covid-19 is over a million.

“So what has happened in Chile is very, very surprising – a high percentage of people have been vaccinated, but here’s a variant of the disease coming through the country.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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