British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled his blueprint for a gradual restarting of the UK’s coronavirus-hit economy and a “conditional plan” to reopen the society under which people can spend more time outdoors with adequate social distancing measures.
In a televised address to the nation, Johnson, a COVID-19 survivor, unveiled a five-level alert system that the government will be constantly monitoring based on scientific data to track the rate at which the deadly virus is spreading referred to as the R rate.
“Though we have made progress in satisfying at least some of the conditions I have given, we have by no means fulfilled all of them. And so no, this is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week.
“Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures,” the prime minister said on Sunday in a pre-recorded statement.
The UK is one of the world’s hardest-hit nations in the pandemic. On Sunday, a further 269 people died in the country after testing positive for the coronavirus, taking the total number of deaths to 31,855.
Johnson said that from Wednesday, people in the UK will be able to sunbathe in their local parks, exercise as much as they want and drive to other destinations.
In reference to the alert system, he said, “Level One means the disease is no longer present in the UK and Level Five is the most critical the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS (National Health Service) had been overwhelmed.
“Over the period of the lockdown we have been in Level Four, and it is thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to Level Three.”
From Monday, the British public are encouraged to continue to work from home where possible and others who cannot work from home, such as construction workers, are encouraged to resume work.
However, all workers are asked to avoid the use of public transport as far as possible and use more environment friendly options such as walking and cycling.
Clarifying the conditions in which businesses would reopen, Johnson said: “Throughout this period of the next two months we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity. We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health. And I must stress again all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big ifs.”
The Bank of England has already warned that the UK economy is heading towards its sharpest recession on record.
The Bank’s latest Monetary Policy Report showed the UK economy plunging into its first recession in more than a decade. The economy shrinks by 3 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, followed by an unprecedented 25 per cent decline in the three months to June.
This would push the UK into a technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline.
In his address to the nation, Johnson said this stage would also involve reopening shops – but he cautioned this would only happen if supported by science.
The next step could see some hospitality businesses and other public places reopen – “if the numbers support it” – but not earlier than 1 July.
The people in England will be allowed to sit in the parks within their household groups, to drive to beauty spots for walks and take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. People will be able to meet and sit down with a single other person outdoors as long as they stay two metres apart.
Angling, swimming in lakes or rivers, tennis and golf will all be allowed if people are sticking to their household groups.
The Prime Minister also said he was “serving notice” that it would soon be the time to impose a quarantine on people coming into the country by air.
The rules on outdoors will be different in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying Scots will be allowed unlimited exercise from Monday but not any sunbathing, picnics or barbecues unlike the rules for England.
Johnson said phase two of the lockdown easing will begin at the earliest by June 1 .
It will include the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages.
Unveiling the latest government stay alert slogan, Johnson said, We will come back from this devilish illness. We will come back to health, and robust health.”
“And though the UK will be changed by this experience, I believe we can be stronger and better than ever before. More resilient, more innovative, more economically dynamic, but also more generous and more sharing. But for now we must stay alert, control the virus and save lives,” he said.
Johnson is expected to give further details of the first phase of looking into easing strict social distancing rules during a statement to Parliament on the modification to the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown, which began on March 23.
The Opposition has criticised the government’s new “stay alert” message as vague.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s address lacked “clarity and consensus” and raised “as many questions as it answers”.
He told BBC News that millions of people who cannot work from home were effectively being told to go to work with just 12 hours’ notice – and not to use public transport.
“That’s why I say the statement raises as many questions as it answers,” he said.
Acting Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said he did not understand why the government had changed its messaging at this stage.
“It risks what people have fought so hard for,” he said.