BORIS Johnson last night predicted Britain will emerge from the coronavirus epidemic “stronger and better than ever before” as he unveiled a three-stage plan for exiting lockdown.
In a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister announced people will be permitted to take unlimited outdoor exercise, sunbathe in parks and drive to the countryside or the beach from this Wednesday. Golf courses and tennis courts will also be allowed to reopen for members of households to play together and anglers will be allowed to return to the riverbanks. And in further stages in his plan, schools and shops could begin reopening next month with restaurants and cafes with outdoor dining spaces to follow in July.
But Boris Johnson warned Britons easing restrictions will be “gradual” with social-distancing measures to remain in force for the foreseeable future with increased fines for those who flout the rules.
“We must stay alert. We must continue to control the virus and save lives,” he said.
A new red-to-green five-tier Covid Alert System warning system, similar to the Home Office alert levels for gauging the terrorist threat, will also be introduced to inform the public about the ongoing level of the outbreak. It will be overseen by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre.
In his TV address, Boris Johnson said the “millions of everyday acts of kindness and thoughtfulness that are being performed across this country” during the crisis gave him confidence that his plan will work.
“We will come back from this devilish illness, we will come back to health, and robust health.
“And though the UK will be changed by this experience, I believe we can be stronger and better than ever before – more resilient, more innovative, more economically dynamic, but also more generous and more sharing,” he said.
Setting out the first stage of changes in the lockdown rules, he 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.”
The Government dropped its “stay-at-home” in favour of a new slogan: “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.”
Boris Johnson warned: “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.”
The fine for breaking social-distancing rules will rise from £60 to £100, doubling for each further offence to a maximum of £3,200.
People flying into the country from abroad – including British holidaymakers returning home – will also be forced to go into two weeks quarantine.
In the second phase of the plan, primary schools could reopen from June 1 for pupils and the phased reopening of non-essential shops is set to begin.
“Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. And we will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops and on transport,” the Prime Minister said.
In the third step of the plan, some hospitality businesses – mainly cafes and restaurants with outdoor space – could open in July.
Other public places such as churches and cinemas where social distancing rules can be enforced will reopen at the same time.
Whitehall insiders say pubs are likely to remain closed until much later in the year.
Boris Johnson will set out full details of his “road map” for adjusting the lockdown over the coming months in a Commons statement to MPs this afternoon while a 50-page document will explain the medical science behind his decision and his ambitions for restarting the economy.
He is also expected to set out recommendations for wearing face coverings on public transport or in workplaces.
Business will be instructed how they can make workplaces “Covid Secure” so employees can return to work under the plan.
Ministers agreed the lockdown changes in a Cabinet conference call at lunchtime yesterday.
Yet the switch in approach led to a collapse in the already splintering UK-wide consensus about the lockdown.
Shortly after being briefed about the changes during a meeting of the “Cobra” emergency planning committee by conference call, leaders of the devolved administrations signalled their intention to go their own way.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rejected the Prime Ministers new slogan and insisted the “stay at home” order will stay in place in Scotland. She condemned the “Stay Alert” slogan as “vague and imprecise”, claiming it would be “catastrophic” to use it in her party of the UK.
Mark Drakeford, her counterpart in Wales, confirmed some lockdown rules will be eased in the principality from today.
In his television broadcast, the Prime Minister insisted the change in rules should not be taken as a sign the lockdown was over.
“No, this is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week. Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures,” he said.
Boris Johnson said the Government was beginning a new phase in the fight against the epidemic with a “conditional plan”.
He told the public: “It is thanks to your effort and sacrifice in stopping the spread of this disease that the death rate is coming down and hospital admissions are coming down.
“Thanks to you we have protected our NHS and saved many thousands of lives.”
He added: “It would be madness now to throw away that achievement by allowing a second spike.”
Boris Johnson emphasised that the Government will continue to closely monitor the spread of coronavirus infections – the so-called R for reproduction rate – while taking further steps to ease the lockdown.
“It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe the social distancing and to keep that R down,” he said.
Boris Johnson will say workers unable to do their jobs at home should be “actively encouraged” to return to work from today. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to set out how the “furlough” scheme for taxpayers funding the wages of workers made unproductive under the lockdown rules will be phased out.
The Prime Minister said: “Anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction and manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.
“And 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.
“So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.”
On Twitter earlier yesterday, the Prime Minister said: “Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus by staying alert and following the rules.
“This is how we can continue to save lives as we start to recover from coronavirus. StayAlert.”
Downing Street officials yesterday explained that the the “Stay Alert” message meant people should stay at home as much as possible, work from home if they can and limit contact with others.
People will continue to be encouraged to keep their distance from others, at least two metres apart if possible, and regularly wash their hands.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We can control the virus by keeping the rate of infection and the number of infections down.
“This is how we can continue to save lives and livelihoods as we start to recover from coronavirus.
“Everyone has a role to play in keeping the rate of infection down by staying alert and following the rules.”