British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday the coronavirus lockdown will not end yet, urging people to “stay alert” to the risks as he outlined plans to begin slowly easing measures that have closed down much of the economy for nearly seven weeks.
While his government was giving directions for England, it wants the United Kingdom’s other constituent nations — Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — to take the same approach. But there were immediate divisions, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying she would stick with the existing “stay at home” message.
“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” Johnson said in a televised address. “Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.”
From Monday, those who cannot work from home will be actively encouraged to go to work, he said, encouarging people to walk or ride bicycles instead of taking public transit if possible.
And from Wednesday people will be allowed to take “more and even unlimited” amounts of outdoor exercise as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines, Johnson said.
“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.
The new advice will be accompanied by increased fines for those who break the rules, the prime minister said.
Johnson explained a new five-level COVID-19 alert system that will be used to inform the public about how the lockdown is being lifted, with Level 5 is the most critical level. The changes will help bring the United Kingdowm closer to Level 4.
He hopes to test hundreds of thousands of people for coronavirus each day. Shops may tentatively open by June 1 and some students could also return to school then — but only if the infection rate continues to decrease. Some restaurants could open by July 1.
More details of Johnson’s plan will be made public in parliament on Monday. He returned to work two weeks ago following his own hospitalization for COVID-19.
Johnson’s government has faced criticism from opposition parties and others over its handling of the pandemic and the prime minister is wary of taking the brakes off too soon. Britain’s coronavirus death toll — 31,855 — is the second highest in the world, behind only the United States. The bulk of the cases and deaths have been in England.
The government’s decision to replace its “stay at home” slogan, drummed into the public for weeks, was criticized by opposition parties who called the new “stay alert” message too ambiguous.
The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already extended the lockdown for another three weeks.