‘Stay at home’ remains as PM faces backlash
●Sturgeon rejects ‘vague and imprecise’ new ‘stay alert’ slogan ●Exercise limits relaxed today but other rules stay in Scotland ●Johnson sets out ‘road map’ to begin to reopen the country
Scots have been told they must continue to stay at home in a break with UK Government coronavirus guidance, as Boris Johnson moved to restart the economy and relaxed the rules on going outside in England.
From today, Scots will be allowed to go outside for exercise multiple times a day, but Nicola Sturgeon said all other restrictions would remain in place in a move that will see a tighter lockdown continue north of the Border.
Addressing the nation last night, the Prime Minister set people in England free to go outside for as long as they like and for any reason – exercise, socialising or sunbathing – as long as they do not gather with other households and observe social distancing guidelines.
He also encouraged anyone who cannot work from home to return to work, in an attempt to revive the economy and soften the deep recession that is all but certain.
But a new UK Government coronavirus slogan of “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives” is not expected
to appear in official messages in Scotland after the First Minister asked Mr Johnson not to promote it north of the Border.
There was anger and concern at the softening of the UK Government’s lockdown message, which Ms Sturgeon said had been briefed to newspapers without consulting devolved administrations. “We should not be reading of each other’s plans in newspapers,” she said.
Devolved leaders held a Cobra meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday and Mr Johnson was reported to have held heated talks with opposition leaders, who also questioned the change in messaging.
After Cobra, Ms Sturgeon said the “vague and imprecise” slogan could be “catastrophic”. At a press briefing in Edinburgh, she said she did not know what “stay alert” means, adding: “Presumably we all live our lives in normal times staying alert to danger.”
She said Scots could take unlimited exercise from today, but added that she was not asking additional businesses to open or for people to start returning to work.
Ms Sturgeon stressed that, while people were being encouraged to exercise safely, close to their homes and keeping a two-metre distance from non-family members, they were not to “sunbathe or have picnics or barbecues”.
“All other restrictions remain the same,” she insisted. “The fact that you’re allowed to exercise more than once is definitely not a licence to start meeting up in groups at the park or at the beach. Doing that really does risk spreading this virus.”
The first ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland also said the Stay at Home message would not change in their nations, and opposition parties at Westminster voiced concern about the “ambivalence” and “ambiguity” of the new public information slogan.
The SNP’S Westminster leader Ian Blackford dismissed the new slogan as “mixed messages and muddled thinking”, and Ms Sturgeon said the Stay Home message would be retained in Scotland.
It came before the nationwide broadcast by Mr Johnson setting out the UK Government’s strategy for easing social distancing measures, with the Prime Minister announcing a new five-step alert system on the risk posed by coronavirus.
The slogan “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” was revealed in Sunday newspapers as the UK Government seeks to encourage more employees to go to work and boost the economy.
Branding that included red “danger” stripes around the slogan has been exchanged for green.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the slogan risks ambiguity. He said: “This virus exploits ambivalence, it thrives on ambiguity and I think the problem with the slogan that has been briefed to the newspapers is people will be looking slightly puzzled, questioning ‘what does it mean to stay alert?’ ”
After police in east London said they were fighting a “losing battle” against people who crowded parks over the sunny weekend, Mr Ashworth said newspaper briefings from government sources had led to more people flouting the lockdown rules.
Yesterday Mr Johnson posted an image on Twitter that called on the public to “stay at home as much as possible”, “work from home if you can”, “limit contact with other people”, “keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)” and “wash your hands regularly”.
He added: “Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus by staying alert and following the rules.
“This is how we can continue to save lives as we start to recover from coronavirus.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick was challenged in television interviews over the new slogan, insisting that staying home would remain an “important part of the message” in England as well as Scotland and Wales.
“We would like the whole of the United Kingdom to move as one, that’s our strong preference,” he told the BBC’S Andrew Marr show. “Staying at home will still be an important part of the message.”
Mr Jenrick added: “Stay alert will mean stay alert by staying home as much as possible. But stay alert when you do go out by maintaining social distancing, washing your hands, respecting others in the workplace and the other settings that you will go to.”
But the messaging came in for strong criticism from the SNP, with Mr Blackford tweeting: “What kind of buffoon thinks of this kind of nonsense. [Coronavirus] is an invisible threat. Staying alert is not the answer.”
The slogan was defended by Scottish Conservative MP Andrew Bowie, who said it was “absolutely legitimate for the First Minister to decide that the new slogan will not apply in Scotland”, but criticised “unhelpful and downright disrespectful” attacks by SNP MPS.
Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary, criticised the lack of co-ordination on the government’s new public safety policy with devolved nations, saying: “At a time when we need maximum clarity, the PM has decided to go it alone on messaging.”
“The fact that you’re allowed to exercise more than once is definitely not a licence to start meeting up in groups at the park or at the beach. Doing that really does risk spreading this virus”