UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has recovered from COVID-19, is resuming work Monday amid pressure on his government to elaborate a plan to take the country out of the coronavirus lockdown and warnings that physical distancing must become the “new normal”.
Boris Johnson, who has recovered from the coronavirus and is poised to chair his first COVID-19 “war cabinet” on Monday, is expected to unveil a strategy for gradually easing lockdown restrictions imposed on the country as early as this week, according to the UK prime minister’s allies.
The Prime Minister’s allies are cited as suggesting that Johnson might “modify” elements of the lockdown before the 7 May deadline that obliges Downing Street to review the restrictive protocols set in place in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.
“If Boris wants to change the restrictions earlier than that, or at least announce something before that, then he could go sooner… Talking about lifting the lockdown is using the wrong language, we need to be talking about modifying the lockdown… There is definitely a sense that we could be doing more than we are at the moment in terms of people being (sent back) to work, especially if they are working outdoors,” the PM’s allies are quoted by the Telegraph as saying.
Johnson is taking back control from First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who has been deputising for him since he was taken to hospital more than three weeks ago, amid a chorus of voices in the Cabinet urging him to map out the way forward from the current situation.
Sunday witnessed a drop in the number of hospital deaths to 413 – the lowest number this month, and a 58 per cent reduction from the peak was registered.
As the overall new cases of the disease were also diminishing in numbers, Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England, lauded the benefits of social distancing as bringing about a stabilisation of the numbers.
“You can see we now have a very definite trend of a reduced number of people in hospitals – that is most marked in London. But there is the beginnings of that in the Midlands and other areas of the UK.”
Amid these encouraging signs, Johnson is believed to have discussed with ministers a plan for “modifying” the lockdown rather than lifting it, so that restrictions will stay in place even if workplaces and schools start to reopen.
As updated scientific advice from government experts is anticipated later this week, Johnson is expected to elaborate a “roadmap” for exiting the current lockdown that would provide some measure of clarity for both the public and businesses.
Among the issues being discussed are whether garden centres and car showrooms, that have enough space to allow for social distancing, might be the first to reopen.
Reopening of schools and measures that would be required to ensure the safety of pupils and staff are also believed to have reached an advanced stage.
Public Health England was cited as earlier suggesting a two-week extension to the initial three-week lockdown. If agreed, the plan would have been reviewed this Thursday, writes the outlet, believing that the cabinet had opted to move ahead more cautiously.
“There is a desire to open up the economy. There is a broad acceptance that we can’t just close everything down until a vaccine is found,” a Conservative source was cited as saying.
“The Government has got to explain to the public that we will be setting off on that road to economic recovery and that we are not months away, we are weeks away,” said Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader.
As he spoke of the “transitional” phase in the lockdown, First Secretary Dominic Raab, who had been deputising for the ailing Prime Minister, was emphatic on Sunday that the population would have to accept a “new normal”, as the outbreak was still at a “delicate and dangerous” stage.
“We need to make sure that the next steps are sure-footed, which is why we are proceeding very cautiously and we are sticking to the scientific advice.”
Other key decisions facing Johnson are if people should cover their faces with masks, provision of adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, and pledges to hit the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by this Thursday.
Public Support for a Staggered Exit
As hospital beds start to empty and Birmingham Nightingale Hospital chief executive David Rosser reported that the facility had not taken in a single patient since it opened 10 days ago, showing the NHS had “absorbed” the extra pressure, signs of increased restlessness were evident among the public.
Over the weekend, social restrictions were disregarded to a greater degree as motor vehicle usage rose to the highest level since the lockdown was set in place, and people headed to parks and beaches.
Some businesses, such as garden centres, were also resuming trading.
The UK public is increasingly supporting the idea of a staggered exit from the lockdown, showed an Opinium opinion poll published on Sunday.
Over half of the population believed that as numbers of new infections drop, restaurants, offices, shopping centres and schools ought to be reopened, with large venues such as sports stadiums staying off limits until a vaccine has been developed.
According to data from the World Health Organisation, there are over 148,380 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK. The country’s coronavirus death toll stands at over 20,300.