- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Sunday announce his plans to loosen the national coronavirus lockdown.
- There is unlikely to be any dramatic loosening of current restrictions after the UK officially became the worst hit country in Europe.
- However, people will be given greater freedom to exercise and relax outdoors.
- Johnson will unveil a new slogan urging the public to “stay alert, control the virus, save lives.”
- Scotland and Wales will retain the previous “stay at home” message.
- Some businesses will also be encouraged to re-open.
- Schools are likely to remain closed for weeks more, with other restrictions remaining in place indefinitely.
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Sunday evening announce his plans to loosen the UK’s coronavirus lockdown after the country passed its peak of infections and deaths.
Any changes will be “very limited” Johnson’s spokesman said on Thursday, with ministers fearful of a resurgence in the pandemic, after the UK officially became the worst affected country in Europe for the virus.
However, there will be a loosening of both the guidance and messaging around the lockdown.
Here’s what we know about which lockdown restrictions will be lifted first.
From ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’ outdoors
Johnson will not announce any dramatic lifting of current restrictions, which forced the closure of schools and most business premises back in March.
However, there will be a shift in messaging away from the government’s effective “stay home, save lives” message to a new “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” message.
The change in message is designed to encourage people who can return to work, to do so.
“We want now to have a message which encourages people to go to work,” the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News on Sunday.
Explaining the new slogan, Jenrick told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that “Stay Alert” means “Stay alert by staying at home as much as possible, but stay alert when you do go out by maintaining social distancing.”
The Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations will retain the previous “stay at home” messaging, however.
The shift in England will be accompanied by a tweak to existing guidance on outdoor exercise, according to multiple reports.
Whereas current guidance advises people to only exercise once a day close to home, the new guidance will reportedly allow multiple exercises sessions, including trips further afield, such as country rambles and bike rides.
People will also be allowed to relax outdoors, with sunbathing in parks no longer forbidden.
However, while more outdoors activities will be allowed, playgrounds and outdoor gyms are likely to remain closed for the time being.
Unlike many other countries, the UK government has resisted calls for citizens to be advised to wear face masks, insisting that they only have a limited effect on reducing the spread of infection. The real reason for the reluctance to encourage their use is likely to do with fears about supply shortages, rather than doubts about the science.
This reluctance has begun to drop away in recent weeks with Johnson signalling that new advice on face-coverings will form a big part of his plans to ease the lockdown. The calculation made in Downing Street is that while masks in themselves may not have a dramatic impact on reducing infection spread, they could have a significant impact on increasing public confidence about returning to work, particularly on public transport.
However, ministers are unlikely to use the term “face mask,” and will instead insist upon “cloth coverings,” in order to discourage the panic-buying of clinical face masks.
People will be told to cycle or walk to work
One factor likely to delay the widespread lifting of restrictions will be the difficulty in maintaining social-distancing while on public transport.
Transport for London has already indicated that they will be forced to reduce their capacity to as little as 15% of what it was before the lockdown began. Mass transit systems in other metropolitan areas will likely be under similar pressure.
That is likely to severely restrict the ability of employees to return to workplaces, meaning many businesses will be forced to maintain current remote-working arrangements, even once the lockdown is over.
In order to counter this limitation, both TfL and the UK government are pledging to introduce new measures to help cyclists and pedestrians, including road closures and temporary cycle lanes.
Schools may start to re-open in June
Schools in England are likely to stay closed for all but the children of essential workers this month. However, some reports suggest that these restrictions will begin to be lifted from the start of June, with phased re-openings of primary and secondary schools beginning before the summer break. However, any re-openings are likely to be staggered with pupils potentially being asked to attend on alternate days. Decisions on re-opening schools in Wales and Scotland will be decided by the devolved governments.
One of the most difficult restrictions imposed during this lockdown has been those forbidding people from visiting family and friends. These have taken a heavy toll on some families and individuals who have been cut off from their support networks.
None of today’s papers suggest these rules are likely to be lifted on Sunday. However, some reports suggest new guidance may allow contact between a limited number of family members and friends in a so-called “bubble” arrangement. Such guidance would likely prove confusing and difficult to enforce however, and some papers suggest plans for such arrangements have been delayed.