Everything we know so far about the possible lockdown exit plan
- Credit: Archant
Boris Johnson is expected to reveal details of the government’s “roadmap” for easing the UK lockdown on Sunday - but what measures are being looked at?
Social distancing will remain in place until a vaccine has been developed, with ministers warning Britons they may have to get used to a “new normal”.
The Prime Minister said he wants to instill confidence in the public so that they can feel safe to emerge from their homes again when they are invited to do so.
He confirmed earlier this week that he hoped to “get going on some of these measures on Monday” as the country is now believed to be past the peak of the virus.
What could change?
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In Wednesday night’s briefing, the government said local authorities will need to look at how workplaces can be adapted, how outdoors spaces can be managed, and how public transport networks can operate. This may be considering how we can create more room in the town centre for pedestrians and how we can make it easier to cycle or walk to work.
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• Time spent outside
It appears initial changes will focus around the amount of time people are allowed to spend outside.
Public Health England has signalled the “stay home” message could be abandoned and reports suggest that those using benches, having picnics or sunbathing will no longer be asked to move on, provided they keep two metres apart.
It means families may even be allowed to travel to the countryside for walks and day trips, as long as they follow social distancing rules.
Tom Hunt, Ipswich MP said there “may be some scope to increase the time allowed out of the house for exercise, if it is safe to do so”.
He said: “I am confident the PM will continue to make the right decisions, led heavily by the science to ensure the health of our people comes first.
“I don’t expect the announcement on Sunday to be all that dramatic, but to lay out some steps to lessen the restrictions now, with plans and time scales relating to the future easing of restrictions.
“I have read there may be some scope for small groups to socialise, but how that would work I’m not quite sure.
“If we can relax some measures then great, but we don’t want to undermine what we have done and how far we have come.”
Mr Hunt said we need to think about the impact of the lockdown on people’s mental health and explained it “is all about trying to get the balance right”.
He said he is glad people in Ipsiwch have generally been following social distancing rules in the town’s parks, allowing them to stay open for those who don’t have access to open space.
He said: “The government recognises how important exercise is for mental health, which is why they have allowed people to exercise outside for an hour a day. But an hour goes by very quickly, so if it is safe to increase this safely then I would welcome it.”
• Getting more people back to work
Employees in non-essential industries who have been operating from home may well be allowed to return to work, with the government expected to call for masks to be worn on public transport during busy periods.
Mr Hunt said: “If there are opportunities to get sections of the economy going again safely then great.
“None of this is easy, however, there are multiple things to balance. Firstly, the health of the country, not letting the NHS become overwhelmed and of course our economy. It is not callas to have concerns about our economy, but it is vital that we try to get the balance right.”
Businesses wanting employees to return to the office could be made to stagger shifts, put up signs asking workers to stay two metres apart and ensure there are hand-washing facilities, hand gel and PPE supplies readily available.
Bus and train timetables are likely to be adjusted and increased to help the system cope initially with the increase in passengers.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of the Business Improvement District (BID) in Bury St Edmunds has raised concerns about how social distancing can be enforced on public transport – and worries that without councils and the BID given time to plan this it “could lead to chaos”.
He said: “We want to make town centres safe and inviting, so we will initially focus on three modes of transport, walking cycling and personal vehicles.”
• Could sporting events be played behind closed doors?
Many sporting events such as football matches are set to begin the transition by staging events behind closed doors, or at “neutral venues” as early as June - an option Matt Hancock says he is “absolutely open to.”
Meanwhile, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, said he thinks pubs and some establishments could reopen their gardens and outdoor facilities, despite some reports saying pubs will not reopen until December.
“Outdoor seating areas could be reopened so that people can have a pint in the garden, frankly that is better than nothing,” he said.
Matt Hancock suggested on Wednesday that outdoor “pavement cafes” could be put in place over the summer which, if successful, may prompt further use in future.
What is likely not to change?
• Social distancing to remain
Social distancing measures and stricter hygiene rules are likely to remain in place in many places for the foreseeable future to ensure that the disease is kept under control.
Supermarkets and other high street shops are also likely to continue with measures such as floor markings to keep customers apart, while also using screens, visors and gloves to safeguard staff members.
Mark Cordell says the “timing and practicality of easing these lockdown measures is important”.
He said ideally he would like to have two or three more weeks of lockdown to ensure the town centre is safe for people to come and use, so that social distancing can be implemented.
Mr Cordell, who said 70% of businesses in the west Suffolk town are currently not trading, said it would make “less economic sense” for some businesses to reopen with such tight social distancing restrictions in place.
He said a number of practical things, such as path sizes and whether roads would be open, would need to be looked at to ensure the two metre distance could be abided by.
He worries “people will think it can go back to normal”, but says that generally people have been very responsible in his town.
• Uncertainty over schooling remains
The use of virtual teaching is also likely to continue, as uncertainty still remains about whether school and university students will begin the new academic year in September in person, or remotely.
When children do return to school, class sizes could be limited as well as new, alternative classroom layouts and staggered break times to keep pupils and teachers safe.
But Mr Hunt, who sits on the Education Select Committee, said the continued closure of schools is a real worry.
“I am significantly concerned about the impact of school closures on both the mental and physical health of people in Ipswich, and also how this prolonged closure could widen the gap in the education of different groups,” he explained.
• Travel not expected to return to normal
Airports are looking at introducing precautions to ensure passengers can be kept safe when more widespread travel does resume.
Heathrow Airport has already said it will introduce temperature screening, which will initially be used to monitor arriving passengers in immigration halls but could also be deployed in areas for departures, connections and airport staff searches.
New guidance from May 7 asks all passengers departing or arriving through Stansted Airport to wear gloves and also cover their faces, either with face masks or their own clothing.