With coronavirus cases and deaths decreasing, the UK government has started to slowly ease the lockdown measures that have been in place since March. A 60-page document titled ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ was released along with the statement last week as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to steadily reopen the country’s economy.
Until now, the public had only been permitted to leave homes for essential work, grocery shopping, one form of exercise per day and medical emergencies. Citizens can now rest at and enjoy public spaces such as parks, as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.
There are now no limits on outdoor exercise and it is also permitted for anyone to participate in outdoor sports with members of their own household, or one additional household. Anyone who cannot work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, are now being actively encouraged to return to work.
However, it has been recommended by the government that masks are worn when spending time outside the house and it is still advised to avoid public transport if at all possible, in a bid to better maintain social distancing.
“This is a challenging time, and as we chart the right course over the weeks and months ahead, our overriding priority remains to save lives, whilst also at the same time, preserving livelihoods and allowing people to return, over time, and as and when it’s safe, to something resembling more normal way of living,” UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“So on the 11th of May, we set out a roadmap to provide the information, the advice, and the reassurance, to businesses, to public services, to other organizations, and to employees and citizens up and down the country,” the 46-year-old said.
“I want to thank everyone who is making the adjustments and engaging with us in government to forge a path ahead in a sure-footed and sustainable way. Now of course, we recognize that people have concerns, they have questions, and we want to work together with them and with everyone involved to provide the necessary confidence and reassurance in the next steps that we’re poised to make.”
The reopening of schools still depends on how the country reacts to the initial loosening of lockdown measures and whether or not there is a second spike in coronavirus cases. However, Prime Minister Johnson has expressed belief that younger children will be able to return to school in the beginning of June.
“We believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with reception, year 1 and year 6,” Johnson told reporters.
“Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays,” he added.
“And we will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops and on transport.”
According to the 60-page document, the beginning of June will also see the phased reopening of non-essential retail. The government will issue a statement on June 1, highlighting which businesses will be eligible to reopen at each phase, as well as how long each phase will last.
‘Step Three’ of the plan laid out in the document includes the reopening of the hospital sector, which is set for July 4, as long as conditional coronavirus targets are met before that date. This means Brits will likely be able to return to pubs and restaurants by early July, but places that are designed to be crowded, such as night clubs and music venues, are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at that time.
“As people will be aware, we’ve established a new COVID Alert System with five levels, each relating to the current level of threat posed by the virus. The alert level is focused on the rate of infection known as the R-value, as well as the total number of coronavirus cases overall. That alert level helps us to determine the social-distancing measures that we need to fight the virus. So the lower the level, the fewer, or the less restrictive, the measures that we will need at any given time,” Raab said during his press conference.
“Since the lockdown began at the end of March, we’ve been at Level Four, as on the slide. And thanks to the hard work and the huge sacrifices across the UK, and the progress that we’ve made as a result of that, particularly in relation to compliance with the social-distancing measures, we’re in the process of moving from Level Four to Level Three on the slide. We will do that through a number of very careful and deliberate steps.
“So you’ll see that last week, the prime minister set out the first of three steps designed to carefully modify the measures that had been put in place. And by gradually easing certain measures, we can begin to allow people to return to something resembling a more normal way of life.”