UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday defended the easing of lockdown measures in England from Monday despite the thousands of new COVID-19 cases every day and also several scientists speaking out against the move.

Speaking to the BBC, Raab said the government had been listening to the views of different scientists who did not all agree.

He said the country was now transitioning from level four to level three of the COVID-19 alert system, adding that the easing of measures was only being taken because the government had met its five targets.

The government “wanted to avoid a re-entering of the lockdown”, he told the BBC, but with the track, trace and test system a targeted approach could be taken.

“We have definitely got the ability and we will target specific settings or particular regions or geographic areas – and that gives us the confidence to take sure footed steps forward.”

Scientists who advise ministers have voiced concerns about easing the rules.

Professor John Edmunds, from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and also a member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it was a “political decision” to ease measures, adding that the levels of coronavirus were still “very high”.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of Sage, said in a tweet that COVID-19 is “spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England” and NHS test and trace “has to be fully working and infection rates have to be lower”.

Epidemiologist Professor Sian Griffiths told the BBC that if scientists were in charge of decisions, lockdown would probably not be eased currently, but she said there were other factors to consider.

On Sunday, the UK continued in the second position after the US with 38,458 COVID-19 deaths, which also accounts for the highest fatalities in Europe, while the total number of cases stood at 274,219.