Stay alert, Control the virus, Save lives - UK issues steps to lockdown exit.
The announcement by Boris Johnson of a three stage easing of the lockdown brought some temporary "easing" of the mind if nothing else to a restless nation looking for answers and a plan to getting out of this nascent imprisonment that has had most of the world on lockdown for over two months now.
Overall, the message was that the lockdown must be eased very gradually, and the conditions for easing must not only be met, but sustained.
The five "conditions" as I've understood it, noted by Johnson are as follows:
- The NHS must be protected;
- The mortality rate must continue to decline;
- Infection rate must continue to drop, or at-least not increase;
- Adequate personal protective equipment must be available or provided.
- Any measures taken must not force the reproduction rate (r0) above "1."
The new COVID Alert Level system introduced by Boris Johnson is used to measure the severity of the virus at any given time. Kind of like a weather warming system. 5 is most severe, 1 means the disease no longer present in the UK.
Johnson noted that the UK had entered level 4 and can now enter level 3 step by step.
What are the steps to level 3 and below?
Step 1: Work and Exercise
"If you can, you should work from home, only physically go to work if it is necessary"
Johnson urged those who must go to work, to try to avoid public transport and "if possible, go by car, walk, or ride a bicycle"
Johnson also emphasised that in order to ensure safety of those people at work, the government has been working hard to establish new guidelines for employers to protect the workplace from the threat of the virus.
Some media outlets have predicted that these employers will receive the following instructions.
- Implement staggered working and leaving hour procedures.
- Employees use stairs instead of elevators.
But in addition, the British Media expect the draft proposal for "safer work" to be:
- Install plexiglass screen between desks
- Ask employees not to sit face to face, instead back to back or side to side
- Elevators should only be half occupancy at any time.
- Desk rotation not to be used as well as no more shared equipment.
- Remote meetings should be held where possible and employers should provide hand sanitiser and appropriate ventilation equipment.
- Employees who are required to return to work should be provided with face masks.
Working out and Exercise
Starting Wednesday, people are encouraged to do as much exercise as they see fit with as many outings as they want.
"You can sunbathe in the local park, you can drive to other places, you can even do sports with your family"
Social distancing rules still apply. If you are meeting people outside of your household, then you need to stay 2m apart, and stiffer fines will be levied if rules are broken.
Step 2: Reopening the schools
The gradual reopening of schools will be phases starting as early as June 1st (after half term) so that primary school students can return to school. These begin with the 1st year, and 6th year students.
Middle school students facing exams next year will have to "hope" for some time with their teachers before the holidays. Further guidelines are still to be delivered.
The media had earlier broken news that Johnson encountered stiff resistance from unions on the issues of reopening schools. The union insisted that they will not consider the reopening of schools until the COVID-19 track and trace system is in place.
Regardless of the policy, a poll also found that most parents are reluctant to let their children return to school as of right now.
Step 3: Reopen the public place
Under the premise of following all scientific advice, and all the policies, as early as July, some public places will be gradually reopened.
Bars, Clubs and Hotels
At present, bars, cafes and restaurants will continue to close but can provide takeaway services.
"Non-essential" stores, including clothing retailers and hairdressers will continue to close.
Johnson admits that life has been difficult and will continue to be difficult as the lockdown gradually eases for the entire country. He called it "a huge price to our way of life."
He said: "All around us, there are closed shops, abandoned stores, dim bars and restaurants, we can see the depression all around"
The Prime Minister said that if the set conditions are met, the government will support "at least a part of the hotel industry and other public places to reopen, provided they are safe and social distancing is strengthened."
Gym and Leisure centres
Gyms and sports stadiums will continue to be closed, but Conservative MPs have been calling for temperature tests.
A senior government official told the media: "If people use the same equipment, then there will be problems"
Johnson stressed that the likelihood of spreading the disease outdoors is less than indoors so the relaxing of restrictions on outdoors will come first.
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of Community Affairs, said it is too early to reopen religious services.
Robert said the government is in dialogue with religious leaders across the country to consider how to resume services in Churches, Mosques and Synagogues.
However, "This is not the moment." Robert said.
Step 4: Travel Regulations
Johnson has said that visitors to the UK will be quarantined to prevent the second wave of coronavirus from spreading.
"In order to prevent the increase of overseas cases, I now inform you, that the time for quarantine and quarantine for foreigners will soon come, this is so that the infection rate can be greatly reduced" said Johnson.
British media reported shortly after that passengers arriving in the UK will be required to fill out an electronic form, declare an address, and then isolate themselves there for 14 days.
If spot checks find that tourists violate the rules, they will face a fine of up to £1000 and can even be deported.
Heathrow Airport is exected to begin body temperature scanning this month.
At the same time, industry insiders said that once the lockdown measures are lifted, in order to prevent overcrowding, passengers may be required to book slots of time at the train station through their phones.
British Transport Minister Grant Shaps announced a £2 Billion government package that made cycling and walking "the core of transport policy."
He said the first phase will include wider pavements, and pop up bike lanes, as well as dedicated streets for bikes and buses.
The popular "Cycle to work" scheme will be given priority, and a bike repair ticket program will be introduced. There are also plans to increase the number of places to get your bike repaired.
Electric vehicle trials will also be moved forward from next year to next month to help encourage more people to abandon public transport and choose environmentally friendly alternatives.
The slogan from the government since the speech has changed from "Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save lives" to "Stay alert, Control the virus, Save lives"
Some politicians and union leaders in the UK aren't buying the new slogan from the Prime Minister on the grounds that they believe the Prime Minister should not give the powerful "stay at home" orders just after the peak of the epidemic.
In response, Ms. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland delivered a speech at a press conference in Edinburgh. She believed that if you relax too fast, or pass mixed messages, people will misunderstand and it will lead to more unnecessary deaths.
She also revealed that she was not informed of the change in advance but instead, learned through the media news on Sunday morning. She insisted that no matter what the Prime Minister says, the "Stay at home" directive will continue in Scotland.
Subsequently, government officials in Wales and Northern Ireland also stated that they will continue to tell people to stay at home.
Union leaders also said that unless safe, union members will be told to not return to work.
Polls by British media showed that 90% of Britons did not want Boris Johnson to relax the lockdown.
The vast majority of people are worried about a second wave of outbreaks rather than the economic collapse that could see them lose their jobs.
At least a third of the people want the stay at home order to remain until the virus is eradicated.
The slogan was changed, and the messages were mixed. The government made a series of steps on the premise of protecting life but caused further confusion.
However, the government outline, marks the steps forward to alleviate the damage from the epidemic and there remains hope that the economy can gradually recover.
As Boris said: "Although this experience will change Britain, I believe we will be stronger and better than before."
"We will become more resilient, innovative, and economically viable, but also more generous and more willing to share."