U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown Sunday and outlined his government’s road map for further lifting restrictions in the coming months.
In a broadcast address to the nation, PM Johnson said people in Britain who can’t work from home, such as those in construction or manufacturing jobs, “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week.
However, he said they should not travel by public transport and should abide with social distancing guidelines when at work.
Johnson said that starting Wednesday, a restriction limiting outdoor exercise to once a day will be lifted and that people will be able to take “unlimited amounts.”
He said people will be able drive to other destinations and resume playing sports, but only with members of the same household.
The prime minister, who spent a week in the hospital receiving treatment for COVID-19, stressed that everyone must carry on abiding by social-distancing rules when out in public and that fines for flouting them will be increased.
Johnson said his government was able make some changes in the lockdown conditions it set because coronavirus-related deaths in the U.K. are declining along with hospital admissions of patients with the virus. But he said it would be “madness now to throw away that achievement by allowing a second spike.”
Johnson also laid out a “conditional plan” for relaxing other lockdown restrictions in the coming months, including the possible return to school for some younger children on June 1.
He said he hoped some of the hospitality industry and more public places can reopen a month later, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing.
The prime minister said he wanted to provide a “sense of the way ahead, and when and how and on what basis we will take the decisions to proceed.”
Ahead of his speech, Johnson sought to flesh out the meaning of the new “stay alert” slogan as telling the public to “stay at home as much as possible,” to keep two meters (over 6 feet) apart “where possible” when going out and to limit contacts with other people.
The leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they would retain the “stay-at-home” message. Up until now, the four nations of the U.K. have moved in lockstep on virus regulations.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the prime minister will also detail a new virus alert system that uses a five-level scale and on which the U.K. currently stands at four.
“Our aspiration is to bring that down as swiftly as we can to three,” he said. “And at each stage, at each of those milestones, we will be in a position to open up and restart more aspects of the economy and of our lives.”
Johnson is also expected to announce that everyone flying into the U.K. will have to quarantine for 14 days unless they are coming from Ireland. The U.K. government has authority on border issues over the devolved administrations.
Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said she has not received any details about any proposed quarantine plan, but warned that it would have a “devastating impact” on the U.K.’s aviation industry as well as the wider economy.