The prime minister has elaborated on his announcement last night about a ‘roadmap’ to lifting restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Returning to work, avoiding public transport, wearing a face mask where social distancing cannot be adhered to, restrictions at the UK borders, travelling to outdoor spaces and getting vulnerable children into education are all measures which the government is introducing from Wednesday 13 May.
After that, from potentially 1 June, schools will re-open in a phased fashion, starting with reception Year 1 children and those in Year 6. Non-essential retail will re-open where it is safe to do so and cultural and sporting events can take place behind closed doors. The government is also looking at the possibility of ‘social bubbles’ where people in a household can be extended to one other household in the same exclusive group.
From 4 July, subject to the five tests justifying some or all of the measures below, and further detailed scientific advice, provided closer to the time, the ambition is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including hairdressers and beauty salons, hospitality such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation, public places such as places of worship and leisure facilities like cinemas. They should also meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
Boris Johnson said: “This document sets out a plan to rebuild the UK for a world with COVID-19. It is not a quick return to 'normality.' Nor does it lay out an easy answer. And, inevitably, parts of this plan will adapt as we learn more about the virus. But it is a plan that should give the people of the United Kingdom hope. Hope that we can rebuild; hope that we can save lives; hope that we can safeguard livelihoods.”
The prime minister added that the longer the virus affects the economy, the greater the risks of long-term scarring and permanently lower economic activity, with business failures, persistently higher unemployment and lower earnings. This would damage the sustainability of the public finances and the ability to fund public services including the NHS. It would also “likely lead to worse long-run physical and mental health outcomes, with a significant increase in the prevalence of chronic illness”.
This is one of the many concerns that WillisPalmer has been raising for weeks. Not only are we concerned about the impact of the measures on parental and child mental health, we are also very worried that vulnerable children are experiencing neglect and abuse while being locked in with their abuser.
Back in March, Chief Executive of WillisPalmer Mark Willis said: “This is a worrying time for the safety of vulnerable children. We cannot justify a lengthy lockdown period in terms of months as it will do more damage than the virus is doing. There is a real risk that children are being left in dangerous situations for much longer than they should be, and we need to think about the long-term damage that this will cause both economically and socially.”
“With businesses closing, this could result in mass unemployment following the COVID-19 pandemic which results in families being plunged into poverty. We know there is a link between poverty and child abuse which will place further pressures on local authority children’s services departments. While we will assist local authorities with cases in a bid to alleviate the caseload of frontline social workers, the country needs to see a clear exit strategy urgently,” Mark Willis added.
The prime minister continued that some people have received a letter from the NHS telling them that as a result of having certain medical conditions, they are considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable. Throughout this period, the government will need to continue an extensive programme of shielding for this group while the virus continues to circulate. The government will also have to adjust its protections for other vulnerable locations like prisons and care homes, based on an understanding of the risk. Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable cohort will continue to be advised to shield themselves for some time yet, and the government recognises the difficulties this brings for those affected. Over the coming weeks, the government will continue to introduce more support and assistance for these individuals so that they have the help they need as they stay shielded. And the government will bring in further measures to support those providing the shield - for example, continuing to prioritise care workers for testing and protective equipment.
Furthermore, it is vital that those who are showing symptoms, however mild, must continue to self-isolate at home, as is currently the case, and that the household quarantine rules continue to apply.
The government announced the following measures:-
- For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.
- All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open.
- As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines, which will be published this week.
- The rate of infection remains too high to allow the reopening of schools for all pupils yet. However, it is important that vulnerable children (including children in need, those with an Education, Health and Care plan and those assessed as otherwise vulnerable by educational providers or local authorities)23 and the children of critical workers are able to attend school, as is currently permitted.
- There is a large societal benefit from vulnerable children, or the children of critical workers, attending school: local authorities and schools should therefore urge more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so.
- Everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. If they can, people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact.
- Social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed rigorously.
People should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops.
- Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically.
- People may exercise outside as many times each day as they wish.
- People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household.
- Clinically vulnerable people should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their households, but do not need to be shielded.
- The government will introduce a series of measures and restrictions at the UK border.
The content and timing of the second stage of adjustments will depend on the most up-to-date assessment of the risk posed by the virus. The five tests must justify changes, and they must be warranted by the current alert level.
The government's current aim is that the second step will be made no earlier than Monday 1 June, subject to these conditions being satisfied. Until that time the restrictions currently in place around the activities below will continue.
- Schools should prepare to begin to open for more children from 1 June. The government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller sizes, from this point.
- Non-essential retail will be re-opened when and where it is safe to do so, and subject to those retailers being able to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
- Cultural and sporting events will be allowed to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact.
- More local public transport in urban areas will be re-opened, subject to strict measures.
- The government has asked SAGE to examine whether, when and how it can safely change the regulations to allow people to expand their household group to include one other household in the same exclusive group.
- In addition, the government is also examining how to enable people to gather in slightly larger groups to better facilitate small weddings.
The next step will also take place when the assessment of risk warrants further adjustments to the remaining measures. The government's current planning assumption is that this step will be no earlier than 4 July, subject to the five tests justifying some or all of the measures below, and further detailed scientific advice, provided closer to the time, on how far we can go.
- The ambition at this step is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including hairdressers and beauty salons, hospitality such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation, public places such as places of worship and leisure facilities like cinemas.
In order to move forwards, the government also needs to feel confident in:
1) Secure NHS and care capacity
2) Infection control in care homes
3) Smarter shielding of the most vulnerable
4) More effective, risk-based targeting of protection measures
5) Accurate disease monitoring and reactive measures
6) Testing and tracing
7) Increased scientific understanding
8) "COVID-19 Secure" guidelines
9) Better distancing measures
10) Economic and social support to maintain livelihoods and restore the economy
11) Treatments and vaccines
12) International action and awareness
13) Public communication, understanding and enforcement
14) Sustainable government structures
“The overriding priority remains to save lives. And to do that, we must acknowledge that life will be different, at least for the foreseeable future. I will continue to put your safety first, while trying to bring back the things that are most important in your lives, and seeking to protect your livelihoods,” Boris Johnson concluded.
OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy