Boris Johnson has announced the UK government’s plan to gradually ease the coronavirus lockdown in England and restart the economy.
In a public address, the prime minister revealed the government’s three-step, conditional plan to ease the lockdown and help some businesses start to reopen over the next three months.
In the first step, Boris urged people who cannot work from home, in industries such as construction and manufacturing for example, to return to work this week if it’s open. However, they should try to avoid public transport, and workplaces should ensure that their staff continue to maintain social distancing measures.
From Wednesday 13 May, people in England are able to take unlimited exercise outdoors with people from the same household, as well as exercise with one person from outside their household, whilst following social distancing rules and keeping at least two metres apart. It will also be possible for households to drive to other destinations in England, such as parks and beaches, but not to travel to different parts of the UK.
Step two could see the phased reopening of non-essential shops in England, but not until 1 June at the earliest, and only if social distancing rules can be followed.
The third step could see the reopening of some parts of the hospitality industry and other public places in England, but not before 1 July – however, this depends on scientific advice and the ability of businesses to keep to social distancing measures.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, commented on the announcement: “Businesses share the prime minister’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks.
“Companies will do everything they can to protect employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully as more sections of the economy are permitted to re-open.
“Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, coordinated with all nations across the UK and supported by clear guidance. It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of PPE.
“Firms will also need to know that government support schemes, which have helped save millions of jobs in recent weeks, will continue for as long as they are needed so that they can plan ahead with confidence.
“The timing of further easing of restrictions must be guided by the public health evidence, but businesses need their practical questions answered so they can plan to restart, rebuild and renew.”
Director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, added: “Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy. A phased and careful return to work is the only way to protect jobs and pay for future public services. The prime minister has set out the first steps for how this can happen.
“Businesses are keen to open and get our economy back on its feet. But they also know putting health first is the only sustainable route to economic recovery. The message of continued vigilance is right.
“This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex. It must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a roadmap with dates they can plan for.
“Success will rest on flexibility within a framework: clear guidance which firms can adapt for their particular circumstances. Financial support will also need to evolve for sectors moving at different speeds – some remaining in hibernation, while others get ready to open safely.
“The coming weeks should see business, government and employee representatives working together as part of a national effort built on openness and trust. This is the only way to revive the UK economy and protect both lives and livelihoods.”
A new Covid Alert System has also been introduced, with each Covid Alert Level determined primarily by the R, the reproduction rate of infections (the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to, on average), and the number of coronavirus cases. The UK currently has the R below one, between 0.5 and 0.9.
“That Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures,” explained Boris.
“The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be. There will be five alert levels. Level one means the disease is no longer present in the UK and level five is the most critical – the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.”
Boris added that the UK has been in level four over the period of lockdown, but is “now in the position to begin to move in steps to level three”.