Boris Johnson reveals plans for post lockdown strategy
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced his outline plans for England's exit from lockdown in a broadcast on Sunday evening, saying that details are to follow on Monday.
His plans apply to England and not to the United Kingdom as a whole. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own much more stringent exit strategies and were not consulted on the details of the Johnson plan.
The prime minister has changed the slogan that will guide the next stage of his plans to handle the covid-19 pandemic from Stay at Home to Be Alert. Under its terms people who can not work from home should return to work as of Wednesday 13 May, preferably on bicycles or in cars but not on public transport.
People can now spend almost any length of time outside their homes for almost any sort of exercise, as long as they are part of the same household. Two people from different households will now be allowed to meet although the two-metre social distancing rule still applies.
It is hoped that some primary school years will begin to return to classrooms in early June as long as the school has social distancing measures in place. This may involve staggering classes, with some in the morning and some in the afternoon.
Anyone coming into the country (other than passengers from the Republic of Ireland and France) may soon be required to go into 14 days quarantine. At the moment there is no start date for this measure, no end date nor any explanation about what will happen to people who do not have anywhere to live for 14 days when they are in England.
Shops may be allowed to open in June if they have self distancing measures in place. It is thought that pubs and restaurants may be allowed to open in early July but only those with outside facilities.
Criticism of Johnson's plan, which is driven by his desire to get the economy moving again, is widespread. Infections are still rising at over 4,000 cases a day (when lockdown was eased in Italy on 4 May new infections were down to just over 1,000 a day).
Testing and tracking, even seven weeks after lockdown, is not up to the government's own standards. At the end of last week about 50,000 tests (half the number of the 100,000 a day the government would like to reach but doesn't) had to be sent to the United States to be analysed, before coming back to the UK to be checked. Nor are supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment) sufficiently secure to satisfy not only the national health service but also the care homes and other crucial parts of the health service.
Having different standards for different part of the UK has also led not just to political questions about the relationship between the “four countries”, as the BBC calls them, but what will happen when English second-homers, vacationers or those looking for outdoor exercise turn up in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? It is no secret that right now they will not be welcome.
Johnson's Stay Alert strategy comes at a time when Germany and South Korea, two of the countries that have handled the cover-19 crisis best, are already experiencing new cluster outbreaks of the coronavirus after easing some restrictions.
And according to a report in The Guardian the Dordogne area of France has also seen a new cluster as the result of a funeral even before restrictions start easing there on 11 May, and in China 14 new domestic cases have been reported, one of which was in Wuhan, the first for five weeks.