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Phased return of schools as Boris Johnson announces roadmap to ease UK coronavirus lockdown restrictions

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (32253990)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (32253990)

Boris Johnson has announced a three-step plan to ease the UK out of the lockdown restrictions imposed to combat the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a speech to the nation tonight (Sunday), the Prime Minister put forward the proposals that will be phased in, with the condition that there is no spike in cases.

The steps are:

Step 1

  • Work: Anyone who cannot work from home is encouraged to return from tomorrow (Monday May 11), but safely, adhering to social distancing and avoiding public transport if possible
  • Exercise: From Wednesday (May 13), people will be allowed unlimited amounts of exercise, and to sit in the park, but only with members of their household

Step 2

  • Schools: A phased reopening of schools is due to begin on June 1, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in primary schools. It is hoped secondary pupils taking exams next year will get some time with teachers before the summer holidays.
  • Shops: Shops will begin to reopen

Step 3

  • Hospitality and public places: By July at the earliest, some parts of the hospitality industry and public places will be open, provided they are deemed safe.

The Prime Minister also announced that there will be a quarantine system for those arriving by air from abroad, but gave no dates or detail on that.

Mr Johnson called the coronavirus “the most vicious threat this country has faced in my lifetime”.

He thanked the public for putting up “with all the hardships of that programme of social distancing”.

“And though the death toll has been tragic, and the suffering immense, and though we grieve for all those we have lost, it is a fact that by adopting those measures, we prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst case scenario was half a million fatalities,” he added.

He said it would be “madness” to throw away the progress made and risk a second spike.

“So I want to provide tonight - for you - the shape of a plan to address both fears.

“Both to beat the virus and provide the first sketch of a road map for reopening society.

“A sense of the way ahead, and when and how and on what basis we will take the decisions to proceed,” he said.

He reiterated the government’s five tests for ending lockdown:

  • protecting the NHS
  • seeing a sustained fall in death rates
  • a fall in the rate of infection
  • solving “challenges”, such as procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and
  • stopping the so-called R number rising up over one and causing “exponential growth” of the virus.

Mr Johnson says we “cannot move forward unless we satisfy the five tests”.

He said those who cannot work from home should return to work, but safely.

“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week. Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.

“We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work,” he said.

From Wednesday, people will be encouraged “to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise”.

“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,” he said.

Schools will return on June 1 “at the earliest”, he said.

This will begin with reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils at primary schools. Some shops will also reopen.

Then by July, some parts of the hospitality industry will reopen, he said.

There was immediate criticism, however, from transport union TSSA.

General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “I am calling on rail bosses to close down services and/or stations if physical distancing of at least two metres can't be maintained.”

He added: “I'm extremely disappointed by the mixed messaging that is coming from the Prime Minister, it’s frankly dangerous. By comparison, the clarity from Scotland and Wales is somewhat of a relief. Let's be crystal clear: there won't be more rail services running tomorrow so only key workers should be using these services as has been the case since the lockdown began.

“The PM telling people who can't work from home to go to work but not use public transport is a ridiculous notion by someone who appears to have lost all grasp of reality. It will cause chaos and our transport network is not ready for any increase in passengers.

“If government won't keep our members and our travelling public safe, then I am calling on rail bosses to close down services and/or stations if physical distancing of at least two metres can't be maintained. The British Transport Police must be deployed at all stations to avoid overcrowding and to ensure that only key workers are using our public transport network.

“We won't allow our members to be used as Covid-19 cannon fodder so that Tory donors in the building industry can make a quick buck at their expense and that of our key worker heroes who need safe access to our public transport network to keep people alive.”

A new Covid Alert System has been created with five alert levels.

It is being run by the new Joint Biosecurity Centre, and will be used to guide the UK's social distancing measures.

The UK began the lockdown in level four and is now moving to level three - level one is that Covid-19 is no longer present in the UK and level 5 is the most critical and overwhelming of the NHS.

The Prime Minister has also revealed that fines will be increased for those breaking social distancing measures.

More to follow.

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