Lockdown restrictions to ease in England
Key Contact: Christian Farrow
Author: Chris Doherty
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson provided an update on Sunday evening on the Government’s proposed changes to lockdown restrictions in England, the first small steps towards reopening the nation after nearly two months of lockdown. The Government’s new message to people in England, “stay alert, control the virus, save lives”, is a subtle but important shift away from the previous “stay at home” advice. Crucially, however, the Prime Minister’s update relates to England only; the devolved nations will, for the time being, continue to advise people to stay at home and have not relaxed restrictions so significantly.
Going forward, a “Covid alert system” will be introduced in the UK which will rate the threat level on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most severe. The threat level will determine the social distancing measures that will be imposed. The UK is currently at Level 4, but Mr Johnson has suggested that we are edging towards Level 3.
With regards the changes to the lockdown restrictions, from today (11 May 2020) people in England who cannot work from home will be actively encouraged to go to work (though notably, public transport should be avoided where possible). The Government will continue to work with employers to formulate guidance on how workplaces can operate safely once operations recommence.
From 1 June 2020, primary schools in England may be ready for staged reopening, and it is hoped that secondary school students sitting exams next year will have some form of teacher contact before the summer holidays. Wales and Scotland, however, do not expect schools to reopen by 1 June 2020.
From Wednesday 13 May 2020, restrictions on outdoor exercise will be lifted for those in England; people will be allowed unlimited outdoor exercise and will be free to sit in parks, play sports (with members of their family) and travel to other destinations, though social distancing must continue to be observed. In Wales and Scotland, people will be permitted to exercise outdoors more than once a day from today and garden centres in Wales will reopen.
Looking forward, the Prime Minister set out a roadmap of when further relaxation of restrictions in England might occur: non-essential shops may begin to reopen from 1 June 2020, and some hospitality businesses such as cafes and restaurants may be reopened from 1 July 2020. These dates are, however, conditional on the number of Coronavirus cases continuing to decline and are subject to medical evidence. In any event, social distancing measures are expected to remain in place throughout the phased reopening.
Finally, the Prime Minister confirmed that it would soon be time to impose a compulsory quarantine for those flying to the UK. Full details on how this will be implemented have not been provided at this stage.
Further clarity sought by businesses
The implications of Mr Johnson’s changes, and the extent to which England will now “reopen”, will become apparent over the coming days and weeks; there remains uncertainty for those who cannot return to work safely or who rely on public transport. Those that can work from home should continue to do so, but those in England who cannot are now “encouraged” to return to work; this ultimately shifts responsibility on judging whether it is safe to return to work onto workers and employers.
Businesses and employers have requested further details and clarity from the Government on how they can reopen safely. Mr Johnson has confirmed that businesses will receive guidance on how to become ‘Covid-secure” in due course, but no formal guidelines have yet been published. Draft plans currently in circulation may provide an insight for businesses on steps that they should be taking to ensure that they operate safely; this includes staggering shifts, prohibiting the use of hot-desking, maximising home-working and imposing social distancing in the workplace. However, it is clear that formal guidelines are required in order to protect workers and give confidence to employers that they can reopen without incurring liability.
The position in Wales
For those in Wales, the circumstances remain largely unchanged and the “stay at home” message has been reiterated. The Welsh Government has urged people in England not to drive across to Wales for visits and have confirmed that fines will continue to be imposed on those making non-essential journeys.
Those living in Wales but working in England have now been placed in an uncertain position, having received conflicting messages from the respective Governments on whether it is time for them to return to work.
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