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Boris Johnson has announced the first slight changes to the coronavirus lockdown in England will come into force on Wednesday, but warned it would be “madness” to remove restrictions entirely this week.
The prime minister said people will be permitted to take “unlimited” outdoor exercise, sunbathe, play sports with members of their household and “drive to other destinations”.
Johnson added that from Monday people who cannot work from home will be “actively encouraged” to return to their jobs.
But in the pre-recorded speech to the nation on Sunday evening, the PM said while some rules will be relaxed, fines for people who break the lockdown guidelines will be increased.
“You must obey the rules on social distancing,” he said.
The number of deaths involving Covid-19 that have been registered across the UK currently stands at 33,021.
Johnson said some children, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6, could return to school by June 1 “at the earliest”.
The “phased” reopening of shops could also be allowed at the start of next month.
Under the PM’s plan, some of the hospitality industry and other public places could be allowed to reopen from the beginning of July.
But he warned he would “not hesitate to put on the brakes” and push back the timetable if the infection rate was not falling.
A new alert system is being established to monitor the threat posed by the virus.
The system, similar to that used to establish the terrorist threat, will be run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre.
The UK is currently at level four of the five-tier system, just below the “most critical” threat – the kind that would have seen the NHS swamped by coronavirus cases.
Johnson used his address to the nation to suggest the country was now edging towards level three.
The further down the Covid alert level ladder the country goes, the more lockdown measures could be eased.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s speech “raises more questions than it answers”.
“The prime minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport,” he said.
“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”
The UK government has been attempting to pursue a “four nations” approach to the coronavirus outbreak, with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all adopting the same tactics.
But the unity broke down in public on Sunday morning when Nicola Sturgeon rejected the prime minister’s decision to soften his public message.
Johnson has replaced his “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” slogan with the looser “stay alert, control the virus and save lives”.
But Sturgeon said she did not want the new message to be deployed in Scotland. “I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means,” she said.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, and Arlene Foster, the first minister of Northern Ireland, have also both said they will stick to the “stay at home” slogan.
Labour has said the new “stay alert” message lacks “clarity” and will leave the public “puzzled”.
In his speech, Johnson said: “From this Wednesday we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.
“You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.
He added: “You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.”
In a bid to begin reopening the economy, Johnson said from tomorrow “anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction and manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work”.
“We want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible, because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited,” he said.
“So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.”
But he added: ”We must stay alert. We must continue to control the virus and save lives.
“It would be madness now to throw away that achievement by allowing a second spike.
“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week. Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.”
Johnson will set out more details in a speech to parliament tomorrow afternoon.