England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has issued a stark warning that coronavirus cases will rise again if people do not follow social distancing guidance.

The warning follows a major incident being declared at Bournemouth’s beaches as thousands of visitors flocked to the south coast to enjoy the hot weather.

In a post on Twitter, Professor Whitty wrote: “COVID-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation.

Chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty

“If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again. Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all.”

A total of 43,230 people have died with coronavirus in the UK, with 149 deaths reported on Thursday, according to Department of Health figures.

Tourist hotspots have been forced to tell visitors to stay away as the UK has seen periods of hot and sunny weather in recent weeks.

However, thunderstorms and torrential rain will bring an abrupt end to the baking hot weather.

A yellow weather warning for thunderstorms is in place for the whole of the UK for Friday, with heavy rain, lightning and hail expected to bring a risk of flooding.

Bournemouth’s crowded beach

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the government has powers to close beaches if social distancing rules are not observed.

Asked by TalkRadio if he would consider shutting some beaches in extreme cases, Mr Hancock said: “Well, we do have that power.

“I am reluctant to use it because people have had a pretty tough lockdown. Everybody should be able to enjoy the sunshine.

“We do have those powers – and if we see a spike in the number of cases, then we will take action.”

Beach visitors ‘have lost control’

Mr Hancock also called for people to stick to the guidelines in a tweet, writing: “We all want to be outside and enjoying the glorious sunshine but if you are heading out please do it safely and stick to social distancing rules.

“We are making real progress in tackling this virus and we don’t want to undo everyone’s hard work. Please stay alert and save lives.”

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Labour MP for Hove and Portslade, Peter Kyle, criticised the government after Boris Johnson told destination communities to welcome reopening.

In an exchange in the Commons, Mr Kyle had pressed the prime minister on how tourist hotspots can be kept safe as restrictions are eased, to which Mr Johnson said they should “show some guts and… champion their communities as venues for people to return to and support”.

Mr Kyle tweeted on Thursday: “I truly wish our prime minister listened to constructive advice. His irresponsibility has consequences.”

The incident in Dorset led local authorities to issue warnings to the public to “show common sense”.

Anna Harvey, who chairs Dorset Police Federation, said: “People have been locked down for months… and now with the weather and the lockdown being unlocked have been flocking to our fantastic beaches.

“I am afraid people were asked by the government to show common sense and at times there has not been much evidence of that being on display. We are still in the middle of a pandemic.”

Local MP Tobias Ellwood urged visitors “not to forget the pandemic is far from over”.

Meanwhile, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas said the scenes in Bournemouth were “worrying” for all seaside towns.

“We love welcoming visitors but want everyone to be safe & need time to make city ready. Pls respect the rules & our city,” she said.

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