The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a “conditional plan” for easing the national lockdown, as the coronavirus rate of infection in the UK begins to reduce.
From tomorrow, those who cannot work from home (such as those in construction and manufacturing) are being encouraged to go to work, but avoid using public transport. Workplaces will need to follow strict guidance on ensuring the safety of their workers from the coronavirus. Also, the public will be able to go outside for unlimited exercise from Wednesday, including playing sports and sitting in parks with members of their households. Fines for people breaching the altered rules will also increase. Anyone arriving from the UK by air will also be subject to quarantine – but no date for the start of this was announced.
The second stage of easing, which could take place from June 1st at the earliest, would involve the re-opening of shops and primary school pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. However, both shops and schools would need to follow the continued need for social distancing.
The third stage that Johnson announced, which would be from July at the earliest, would result in the reopening of the hospitality industry, such as cinemas and restaurants. This is, again, dependent on whether it is possible to maintain social distancing at those venues.
To guide this, the Prime Minister announced a new coronavirus ‘alert system’, which will be determined by the rate of infection and number of coronavirus cases. The higher the level goes, tougher and stricter restrictions will be enforced.
Johnson emphasised that this plan was a conditional one, saying that if the rate of infection increased, the government “would not hesitate to put on the breaks”. He also said that, whilst the death toll from the virus has been “tragic”, he praised the public for following government guidance for preventing “a catastrophe of half a million deaths”.
However, there has been criticism for the vagueness of the plan and for the change in the government’s slogan from ‘Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ to ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives’. The criticism has led to a divergence in approach to the lockdown in the devolved regions of the UK, with the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describing the government’s slogan as vague.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC that the new slogan is not clear enough and that the Prime Minister’s statement raised more questions than it answers.