Boris Johnson has acknowledged frustration over the “complex” easing of England’s coronavirus lockdown.
The PM wrote in the Mail on Sunday that more complicated messages were needed during the next phase of the response and as restrictions changed.
His comments come amid mounting criticism of the way restrictions have been lifted in England.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham warned the PM risked a “fracturing of national unity” if he ignores regions.
And Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer has blamed Mr Johnson for the way Wales and England have diverged on the easing of lockdown.
In his article, Mr Johnson said that the government was attempting something that has “never had to be done before”.
He said he trusted the “good sense of the British people” to observe the new rules and thanked the public for “sticking with us” so far.
The PM said he understood people “will feel frustrated with some of the new rules”, adding: “We are trying to do something that has never had to be done before – moving the country out of a full lockdown, in a way which is safe and does not risk sacrificing all of your hard work.”
But Mr Burnham said England’s regional mayors had been given no notice that lockdown restrictions were being eased.
Writing in the Observer, he warned that without additional support for the regions, there was a danger of a “second spike” of the disease.
He told BBC Breakfast that “the voice of the English regions isn’t being heard at the moment”, adding that the government has “lost some goodwill” with local authorities in its handling and communication of the lifting of lockdown measures.
Mr Burnham said that, despite having taken part in a call two weeks ago with Mr Johnson and eight other regional mayors, he was given no real notice of the measures announced last Sunday.
“On the eve of a new working week, the PM was on TV ‘actively encouraging’ a return to work,” he wrote in the article.
“Even though that would clearly put more cars on roads and people on trams, no-one in government thought it important to tell the cities that would have to cope with that.
“The surprisingly permissive package might well be right for the South East, given the fall in cases there. But my gut feeling told me it was too soon for the North.”
Meanwhile, the devolved nations, which have their own powers over restrictions, have ignored the move in England to a “stay alert” recommendation, and have kept their “stay at home” advice.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she did not know what “stay alert” meant.
Labour leader Sir Keir said different approaches across the four UK nations to tackling coronavirus are not going to “help us out of this crisis”.
The PM’s comments come as the government’s plans to start reopening primary schools in England from 1 June have been challenged by local authorities in the north of England and teaching unions.
Liverpool and Hartlepool councils issued statements saying schools will not reopen at the start of next month as coronavirus cases continue to rise locally.
Mr Johnson said: “I recognise what we are now asking is more complex than simply staying at home, but this is a complex problem and we need to trust in the good sense of the British people.”
The PM said that he wanted to thank the public personally “for sticking with us and – most of all – for being so patient” and sought to reassure the public “that there is a route out of this”.
Meanwhile, No 10 has announced up to £93m to speed-up a new vaccine research lab.
The new fund will accelerate construction of the not-for-profit Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire so it can open a year earlier than planned, the government said.
Ministers hope the centre will be a “key component” of the UK’s coronavirus vaccine programme.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Once a breakthrough is made, we need to be ready to manufacture a vaccine by the millions.”
But Mr Johnson cautioned that, while the UK is “leading the global effort” to find a jab, “a vaccine might not come to fruition”.
The number of people who have died with coronavirus in the UK across all settings increased by 468 on Saturday.
It takes the total number of UK deaths, in all settings following a positive coronavirus test, to 34,466.
There were 136,486 tests recorded in the UK on Friday – the highest daily figure so far in the UK. Boris Johnson has set a target of 200,000 tests a day by the end of May.
In other developments:
- People returned to beauty spots on Saturday in a “manageable” way after the public was urged to “think twice” before heading out
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said “we owe it to the children” to reopen schools