British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday the coronavirus lockdown will not end yet, urging people to ‘stay alert’ to the risks as he outlined plans to begin slowly easing measures that have closed down much of the economy for nearly seven weeks.
While his government was giving directions for England, it wants the United Kingdom's other constituent nations - Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – to take the same approach. But there were immediate divisions, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying she was sticking with the existing “stay at home” message.
Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus by staying alert and following the rules.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) May 10, 2020
This is how we can continue to save lives as we start to recover from coronavirus.#StayAlert pic.twitter.com/2z9yl1Fxs4
Johnson announced a limited easing of restrictions, including allowing people to exercise outside more often and encouraging those who cannot work from home to return to their jobs.
“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” he said in a televised address. “Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.”
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Johnson's government has faced criticism from opposition parties and others over its handling of the pandemic and the prime minister is wary of taking the brakes off too soon. Britain's coronavirus death toll – 31,855 –is the second highest in the world, behind only the United States. The bulk of the cases and deaths have been in England.
People playing tennis against a wall of the Tate Modern building are reflected in glass following the outbreak of the coronavirus, on May 10, 2020. (Reuters)
The government's decision to replace its “stay at home” slogan, drummed into the public for weeks, was criticized by opposition parties who called the new “stay alert” message too ambiguous.
Johnson earlier tweeted a new government poster with rules including “stay at home as much as possible”, “limit contact with other people” and “keep your distance if you go out”.
In his address, Johnson said people should continue to work from home if they could, but from Monday those who cannot, such people working in construction and manufacturing, should be “actively encouraged to go to work”.
From Wednesday, people will be allowed to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise, he said, and can sit in the sun in their local park, drive to other destinations, and play sports with members of their own household.
Until now, people have been expected to exercise outdoors once a day, do so locally, and –despite recent spells of warm weather – told not to go to parks to sit in the sun.
Social distancing rules must still be obeyed, Johnson said, adding that fines would be increased for those who break them.
He detailed an alert system ranging from level 1, where virus is no longer present, to level 5, the most critical, that will allow the government to flag risks in different parts of England and to decrease or increase restrictions where necessary.
Slow and cautious
A person wearing a protective face mask walks by streetart in East London following the outbreak of the coronavirus, on May 10, 2020. (Reuters)
At the earliest by July, and if the infection rates support it, there could be the re-opening of at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing, he added.SHOW MORE