Prime minster Boris Johnson addressing the nation

Prime minister Boris Johnson has outlined a shift in lockdown policy in England as he sketched out a potential exit roadmap but many are calling for further clarity and detail.

Centred around the new policy in England of “stay alert, control the virus, save lives,” Boris Johnson indicated a number of conditional changes may come into force over the coming days and weeks, altering the current lockdown restrictions.

Arguably the most striking announcement made by the prime minister was the change regarding the government’s stance to going to work. Previously, the government advised that all workers should work from home except those essential workers who could not work from home.

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In the prime minister’s address last night, however, Johnson stated that those employees who cannot work from home – highlighting construction and manufacturing workers in particular – should be actively encouraged to return to work from today.

Additionally, the prime minister advised those returning to work to avoid public transport where possible, noting that capacity on public transport will be reduced to allow for social distancing measures.

The change in policy comes a week after the government revealed the cost and extent of the furlough scheme. According to chancellor Rishi Sunak, the scheme designed to prevent mass unemployment had already cost £8 billion by the 4th May as the government paid the wages of 6.3 million people.

In an interview, Sunak admitted the cost was not sustainable in the long-term, with the furlough scheme expected to last until the end of June after being extended by a month.

Alongside encouraging people back to work but discouraging individuals from taking public transport, Johnson also unveiled a new COVID-19 Alert System.

The system consists of five levels which will affect how quickly the lockdown will be increased or decreased, with level five classed as critical and level one signifying that the disease is no longer present in the UK.

Currently at level four, England will be set to move to level three on Wednesday, which will enable people to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. People will also be allowed to drive to parks and beaches with members of the same household, as well as two people from different households being allowed to meet in a part as long as they stay two metres apart.

Johnson also suggested that the 1st June could be the earliest that a phased reopening of retail shops could take place, as well as the return of reception, year one and year six students to primary schools, however, the PM stressed this was all conditional.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement on coronavirus, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We share the view of the Prime Minister that safety is what counts when determining when shops can reopen. Already retailers around the country are working on plans for reopening safely and with all necessary social distancing measures in place. The BRC and Usdaw have supported this process with our own social distancing guidance, learning from the experiences of thousands of supermarkets and other essential retailers. It is vital that the reopening of stores is based on who can do so safely, as opposed to trying to draw lines in terms of different sizes or types of shop.

“Further clarity is needed in coming days and we look forward to more details from the Government. We need a plan for shopping as well as shops – this means a plan that allows safe navigation both to and through our retail centres – and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the Government to support this process.”

Yesterday’s speech from Johnson and the change in slogan marked a divergence from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where the “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” mantra remained in place.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would not be adopting the prime minister’s new policy yet, emphasising in her daily briefing that the country “mustn’t squander progress by easing up too soon or sending mixed messages.”

She also stated: “People will die unnecessarily. We must not take that risk. My basic message remains the same: please stay at home.”

From Wednesday, people in Scotland will also no longer be limited to exercising outdoors once a day.

Following Boris Johnson’s exit plan, many commentators have warned that UK does not yet have the infrastructure of sufficient, widescale testing and a comprehensive track and trace system needed to safely lift lockdown measures extensively.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair said: “As the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation tonight, the death toll in this country has indeed been tragic, and it would be irresponsible to allow any chance of a second spike of this virus, however, these measures risk doing just that.

“There is no detail of how those being asked to return to work will be protected from the infection or prevented from infecting others and there are mixed messages about returning workers not using public transport when many will not own cars. These pose serious risks of further spread of the infection.

“There is no clarity on how social distancing will be monitored and enforced when lifting restrictions to visiting parks and public places and opening travel to any part of the land.

“Meanwhile the level of testing to monitor spread remains far below the capacity needed and there is still no agreement even about the best app for testing and tracing.

“So the message has to be clear. It is imperative that we do not risk people mixing with each other without the ability to rigidly adhere to social distancing.

“Without this assurance, lives are still at risk and the NHS is still at risk.”

A 50-page official guidance from the government is expected to provide further details in the next 48 hours.

Importantly, the new easements, including unlimited exercise, do not apply to those who are currently shielding and have been asked to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

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