Johnson sets out road map to reopen by July if public play their part
Boris Johnson set out a plan to reopen shops, public spaces and the hospitality industry in England as early as July as he scrapped the ‘Stay at Home’ message and encouraged the UK to get back to work.
The Prime Minister said the “colossal cost to our way of life” from the lockdown meant steps had to be taken to return to normal.
But Mr Johnson said his “road map” to reopening the country was conditional on the public obeying social distancing rules, with strict measures reimposed nationwide if required and in local areas to quell flare-ups in coronavirus infections.
“We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous,” Mr Johnson said.
“We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we need.
“But in the end this is a plan that everyone must make work.”
With the devolved nations rejecting a new slogan urging the public to ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus and Save Lives’, Mr Johnson insisted he had “consulted across the political spectrum [and] across all four nations of the UK”.
“I believe that as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland – there is a strong resolve to defeat this together, and today a general consensus on what we could do,” he said.
But a key component of the Prime Minister’s plan – a new alert system to determine how successful the UK has been at suppressing the virus – may not apply in Scotland after Nicola Sturgeon said it had to be reviewed by the Scottish Government first.
Responding to Mr Johnson’s speech, the First Minister said it was “incumbent on him, maybe a bit more strongly than he did tonight, to stress that when he’s talking about lifting these restrictions, he’s talking for England.
“We really have such a duty just now to be as clear as possible.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised Mr Johnson’s new “stay alert” slogan and 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.
“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either.”
The Covid Alert System will be based on the UK’S terror threat level, and will be run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre that will collect data on the spread of the disease.
Experts at the Joint Biosecurity Centre will determine the crucial reproduction or ‘R rate’ – the number of people modelling predicts each coronavirus carrier will infect, on average.
Mr Johnson said there would be five alert levels, with Level One meaning the disease is no longer present in the UK and Level Five the most critical, where the NHS is overwhelmed by the number of cases.
“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,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Johnson warned the R level was “potentially only just below one”, the tipping-point at which the number of cases grows or shrinks, and said the bulk of lockdown restrictions had to continue.
But he set out a significant relaxation of the rules for outdoor activity in England, with people encouraged from Wednesday to spend as much time outside with members of their household as they like.
“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,” Mr Johnson said. Social distancing rules will still apply, and fines will be increased for those who break them.
Mr Johnson encouraged people to go back to work, but to avoid public transport and either walk or cycle where possible.
A 50-page dossier of guidance will be published today setting out how workplaces can be made safe for anyone who cannot work from home.
If the R level continues to fall, primary schools in England may begin to return from 1 June, as well as some shops.
The hospitality industry and some public places could reopen by 1 July “provided they are safe and enforce social distancing” if scientific advice supports it.
“Throughout this period of the next two months we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” Mr Johnson said. “We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health.
“And I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big Ifs.
“It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R down.”
After weeks of criticism of the UK Government’s decision not to require tests or impose movement restrictions on travellers arriving in the country from overseas, Mr Johnson confirmed that air travellers would now be quarantined on entry. “It is because of your efforts to get the R down and the number of infections down here that this measure will now be effective,” he said.
Last night the Prime Minister agreed a bilateral deal with French President Emmanuel Macron that will exempt travellers from France.
“It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R down”