By Grahame Anderson
On Sunday evening Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a slight easing of some lockdown restrictions In England as part of his ‘roadmap’ to defeating the virus.
The PM said: “From Monday “anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction and manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.
“And we want it to be safe for you to get to work.
“So you should avoid public transport if at all possible, because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited.”
He confirmed special guidance has been issued to ensure workplaces can become ‘covid secure’.
Mr Johnson made it clear from Wednesday people can leave the house more than once per day to exercise adding: “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”
He did not however intimate whether driving to ‘destinations’ should be local or not, which could cause further problems for police sometimes finding it difficult to ensure people adhere to social distancing rules. When it comes to beauty spots this may also worry other leaders across the UK and those people who live in popular resorts. This of course, could be clarified in the commons on Monday.
The PM did say fines would be increased for those who break the lockdown rules.
By the first of June the government believes it may be possible to get both reception and year six primary pupils back into schools and launch the phased reopening of shops, as stage two of the road map kicks in subject to the usual five tests being met.
In terms of secondary pupils facing exams next year, the PM said it was hoped they could get some time with their teachers before the holidays.
In a third stage it was announced, “At least some” of the hospitality industry may reopen “only if” the science and numbers support it by July at the earliest.
Other public places may also reopen provided they are safe and enforce social distancing.
Tier Alert System Introduced
All of this ties in with the introduction of a new coronavirus tier alert system enabling authorities to implement different localised responses to outbreaks of the disease.
It’s based on the reproduction rate ‘R’, number of infections and level of social interaction, facilitating a more localised response to the virus. The further the R drops below one, the better – between 0.5 and 0.9 is where it currently stands.
The new system will be numbered from one to five, with level five being the worst case scenario. Having avoided this the UK stands are level four, heading towards three.
In a change of slogan “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives”, is the strong message being given. The thinking here is people can’t stay at home forever as we move to fight the pandemic directly. Mr Johnson had earlier tweeted: “Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus by staying alert and following the rules.”
Leaders of the devolved nations however, said they would continue using the “Stay home” message.
Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, responding to the Prime Minister’s statement, said:“This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions.
“The Prime Minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.
“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”
Louise Haigh, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, added: “At a time when we need maximum clarity, the PM has decided to go it alone on messaging. This exposes a serious lack of coordination from number 10. We need a UK wide approach to defeat this virus, with he UK government working in conjunction with all nations, regions, local authorities and elected mayors.”
On Saturday The Government promised £2bn in funding to boost cycling and pedestrian infrastructure around the country. This prompted Kerry McCarthy MP, Labour’s Green Transport Minister, to say: “Labour welcomes the acknowledgement that we cannot go back to business as usual on our streets, but work on this should have started much sooner. Instead, it’s once again been left to local councils to take the lead and make our roads safer for cyclists.”
The government had earlier revealed garden centres in England will be allowed to open from Wednesday, and anyone arriving in the UK should self-isolate for 14 days, unless they are a key worker coming from Ireland, already using this system.