The prime minister has published the government’s plans to ease lockdown restrictions in England, before addressing MPs in parliament to try and clarify the confusion caused.
Boris Johnson set out three phases for the forthcoming months and said it was “very good advice for the entire population of the UK”.
The leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reiterated their rejection of the PM’s move to exit phase one, and instead have chosen to keep their core message to people in their countries to “stay at home”.
Masks and a two metre distance
As such, and like last night’s televised address to the nation, the PM’s new ‘stay alert’ message and guidelines are only for England; where from Wednesday (May 13) people will be able to go outdoors for fresh air or exercise as often as they wish.
People will also be able to meet one person from another household whilst maintaining a two metre distance.
People who can’t work from home should return to their jobs, where possible. Covid-19 Secure guidelines will be issued for workplaces later this week and people have been urged not to use public transport by choosing to walk, cycle or drive where possible.
New advice on wearing face coverings on public transport and in some retail places has already been recommended by the Scottish and N Ireland governments.
‘Phase one damages the sustainability of public finances’
The 60 page, 19,000 words, Our Plan to Rebuild: the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy – says the steps are part of a “conditional plan” and dependent on scientific advice.
Phase one began at the start of the lockdown on March 23 with the aim to ‘contain, delay, research and mitigate’ the coronavirus. The document states that remaining in phase one would “damage the sustainability of the public finances”, and by implication the ability to fund the NHS.
“The longer the virus affects the economy, the greater the risks of long-term scarring and permanently lower economic activity, with business failures, persistently higher unemployment and lower earnings,” states the document.
Changing social restrictions with “smarter measures” that have “the largest effect on controlling the epidemic but the lowest health, economic and social costs” will define phase two.
‘Public should exercise good, solid, British common sense’ – Johnson
The “smarter measures” will be unveiled in the coming weeks and aim to “maximise the pace at which restrictions are lifted.”
Speaking in the Commons following publication of the document, Johnson told MPs the “roadmap” for loosening the lockdown will help the country “control” the virus if people follow the rules.
The public should exercise “good, solid, British common sense,” said Johnson.
‘So many questions need answering’ – Starmer
Labour leader Keir Starmer repeated that what the country needs at this time is “clarity and reassurance and at the moment both are in pretty short supply.”
Starmer said “at the heart of the problem it seems” is the PM’s statement made last night “before the plan was written or at least finalised – and that has caused considerable confusion.”
Starmer later added: “The prime minister said he was setting out a road map, but if we’re to complete the journey safely a road map needs clear directions. So many of us have questions that need answering.”