Last reviewed 12 May 2020
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the nation on Sunday evening (see “Prime Minister sets out cautious and conditional plan”) there was some criticism that his description of the way out of lockdown lacked clarity and detail.
He has moved swiftly to remedy the situation by issuing a 60-page document entitled “Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy” which can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/884171/FINAL_6.6637_CO_HMG_C19_Recovery_FINAL_110520_v2_WEB__1_.pdf.
This describes the progress the UK has so far made in tackling the coronavirus outbreak and sets out the plans for moving to the next phase of its response to the pandemic.
In his foreword to the strategy, Mr Johnson states: “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.”
The aim is to try to return life to as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible, in a way that is safe and continues to protect the NHS, he explains.
A phased recovery…
The document begins by describing the current situation, with particular reference to the importance of lowering “R” — the reproduction number (the number of people infected by any one person).
This section describes both the health and the economic impact of the virus, recognising both the terrible impact on care homes and the fact that a higher proportion of those who have died of COVID-19 have been from minority ethnic backgrounds as well as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) prediction that the annual contraction in GDP could be the largest in over 300 years.
It also highlights that workers in those sectors most affected, including hospitality and retail, are more likely to be low-paid, younger and female.
The report then moves on to explain why drastic and sudden changes would be disastrous and why there is no easy or quick way out of the current lockdown.
The Government sees the way ahead as being shaped by the best scientific and medical advice, emphasising fairness and the protection of privacy while taking measures that are proportional to the risk posed and maintaining transparency.
… lifting restrictions step-by-step
The strategy presents “a carefully planned timetable for relaxing restrictions, with dates that should help people to plan”.
The Government will take a three-step approach, always stressing that a sudden and concerning rise in the infection rate may mean that it has to re-impose some restrictions.
Applying from Wednesday 13 May in England, and subject to possible local public health and safety requirements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this stage envisages people working from home wherever possible.
All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open, with employers advised to follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines which will be published separately.
To enable more working parents to return to the workplace, the Government is amending its guidance to clarify that paid childcare — for example, nannies and childminders — can take place subject to being able to meet the public health principles set out in this document.
As for getting to work, this stage will require people to avoid public transport wherever possible. Appropriate guidance to help operators to make transport services COVID-19Secure, for those who do have to use them, will again be published separately.
The Government is now advising that 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.
This section of the strategy concludes with some slight lifting of restrictions with regard to outdoor exercise, a continued emphasis on protecting the clinically vulnerable and the possibility of more stringent enforcement measures for non-compliance.
Stage Two will begin no earlier than Monday 1 June (and, again, the Government stresses that this is subject to the most up-to-date assessment of the risk posed by the virus).
It will see a phased return for early years settings and for children from Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller class sizes.
The Government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer, for a month if feasible, although this will be kept under review.
The Department of Education (DfE) will engage closely with schools and early years providers to develop further detail and guidance on how schools should facilitate this move.
Subject to non-essential retailers being able to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines, they will be allowed to open during this stage when and where it is safe to do so.
More local public transport will re-open in urban areas, subject to strict measures to limit as far as possible the risk of infection.
The Government is also considering a relaxation in this phase of the current strict rules on social and family contact and may, subject to further discussions, allow people to gather in slightly larger groups.
It may at this point support some families to return to work by, for example, allowing two households to share childcare.
When the assessment of risk allows, and probably not earlier than 4 July, the third stage may see the opening of at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close.
These would include:
personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons)
hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation)
public places (such as places of worship)
leisure facilities (including cinemas).
In this regard, the Government will carefully phase and pilot re-openings to test their ability to adopt the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
To deliver the above strategy, the Government is putting in place 14 programmes of work to underpin the aims and approaches documented above. Details are provided of the following:
Securing NHS and care capacity
Protecting care homes
Smarter shielding of the most vulnerable
Risk-based targeting of protection measures
Accurate disease monitoring and reactive measures
Testing and tracing
Increased scientific understanding
Preparing "COVID-19 Secure" guidelines for workplaces, schools and prisons
Better-targeted distancing measures
Support to maintain livelihoods and restore the economy
Producing treatments and vaccines
Co-operating with international action
Improving public communication, understanding and enforcement
Producing governmental structures that are fit to cope with a future epidemi
The document concludes with details of opportunities to volunteer or to offer business support.