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International 13 May, 2020 Follow News

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Between an early Sunday evening pre-recorded national address and a subsequent live statement to parliament on Monday afternoon, what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had hoped would have galvanised the country behind him seemed in danger of unravelling as he sought to ease the country out of lockdown.

He had outlined a Cayman Islands-type five point “roadmap” spread over three phases to loosen the lockdown and to reopen the UK economy.

Called the Covid Alert System it now puts the UK at Level 4 allowing some sectors to reopen, relaxes restrictions on exercising and meeting up people outside the immediate household, plus a new slogan of ‘Stay Alert’ replacing the previous ‘Stay Home’.

The next phase of the “conditional plan” is tentatively targeted for June 1st and would allow some primary schools and more shops to reopen.

By July 1st some parts of the hospitality sector and other public places could follow suit.

That’s the plan called ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’.

But almost immediately it was being derided as being premature, ambiguous and lacking clarity.

Monday morning attempts by Mr Johnson’s his defacto deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to provide that clarity were themselves soon mired in disarray.

The plan is an array of subtle changes.

It goes from who is allowed back to work initially and when, new relaxed rules for exercising, meeting persons out of the household, and increased fines for those breaking the rules.

Also covered are a tentative schedule for the reopening of schools, quarantining of arriving passengers, wearing masks (or other face coverings), maintaining social distancing, and even a new slogan telling people to ‘stay alert’ instead of ‘stay home’, the one constant that came through was that the UK is still under lockdown.

And even there was divergence with the degree of lockdown in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have decided against following central government (and England) and maintaining their strict lockdown measures - as well as the original slogan.

For example, Monday morning saw packed trains with commuters disregarding social distancing, and roads clogged with traffic. Those were attributed to an interpretation of Mr Johnson’s advice to workers in selected industries who are unable to work at home to return to their regular workplace.

It took Mr Raab to explain that the ‘idea’ was really for a return to work on Wednesday this week.

By Monday afternoon some clarity had started to emerge in Mr Johnson’s ‘plan to rebuild’, largely forced by the flurry of questions in the hours since his Sunday evening broadcast.

He unveiled the 50-page document which he had alluded to in his Sunday evening address as intended 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 our NHS (National Health Service).”

But speaking in parliament on Monday afternoon the Prime Minister proceeded to warn: "We will have no hesitation in putting on the brakes, delaying or reintroducing measures – locally, regionally or nationally,” if things don’t go according to plan.

That included if the alert level rises from its current four to the most severe stage five.

He urged the public to apply their exercise “common sense” in obeying the rules.

The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer (a QC and former Director of the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service) cross-examined what he called Prime Minister’s mixed messaging which he felt “lacked clarity and consensus" and “raised as many questions as it answers".

He also questioned variations in the government’s plan between Sunday night’s address, what they were given before, and the Prime Minister’s subsequent statement in parliament.

There are still many unanswered questions, beyond the explanations provided in the government’s documents.

The way it’s going about lifting the lockdown will be under intense scrutiny, especially now that the UK is said to have passed the peak of the disease and the economic recovery increasingly becomes a point of focus.

Although the daily COVID-19 death toll is falling in the UK, by Monday afternoon over 32,000 people had died from the disease.

But the public health crisis and suppressing the virus remain matters of grave and pressing concern.

COVID-19 almost caused Mr Johnson his life; coming close to making him the most high-profile of its almost 300,000+ victims worldwide thus far.

It gives the recovering Mr Johnson more reason to defeat this virulent and rampaging unseen enemy.

As Mr Johnson himself has said: “We have begun our descent from the peak of the epidemic but our journey has reached the most perilous moment where a wrong move could be disastrous."

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