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The End of Lockdown? – PM Statement on 10 May

This is BuDS’ analysis of the main points of the Prime Minister’s Statement on 10 May. Important warning: this document is based on the actual words spoken by the PM in his pre-recorded statement on Sunday 10 May. The Government has since ‘clarified’, or in some cases flatly contradicted, what was said in the speech.

The End of Lockdown as We Know It

The PM says that the country has passed the ‘initial peak’ of the coronavirus crisis. The ‘Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ slogan is now dropped and ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives’ is being used instead.
While the PM says that a second spike in infections of Covid-19 must be avoided and that the lockdown is not being ended this week, BuDS feels that for practical purposes the lockdown as we have known it has in fact ended. The PM has also laid out a conditional three-step plan to reopen most (but not all) public places over, possibly, the next 7 weeks.

Steps to Ending Lockdown

While the Government say it is announcing the ‘first careful steps’ to end lockdown, Step 1 is in fact taking place immediately. The other two steps are conditional on meeting five rather vague tests: and two further conditions:

a. Protecting the NHS, which probably means that NHS facilities and staff are not overwhelmed and can continue both to treat normal patients alongside coronavirus patients.
b. Continued sustained falls in the death rate from coronavirus, which currently stands at about 300+ people per day.
c. Sustained and considerable falls in the rate of coronavirus infection, which is the number of people being infected with coronavirus per day.
d. Being able to provide masks, gloves and other PPE to ‘the people who need it’. It’s unclear whether this means just key workers or all workers or the general public. However, there is no mention of asking or requiring people to use PPE outside health and care settings.
e. Keep the ‘R’ value, or cross-infection rate, below 1, so that the virus does not start to spread very quickly through the population.
f. Reverse the ‘epidemics’ in care homes and the NHS, which presumably means bringing the current high death and infection rates in these places under control, although to what extent isn’t clear.
g. Have a ‘world-beating’ contact tracing system in place to test potential victims and trace who they have been in touch with. This probably means the NHS mobile phone app being rolled-out in the Isle of Wight.

A 5-stage Covid Alert System is being set up, like the terrorism threat level system. The Covid Alert system is not well explained but seems to use some of the five tests and two conditions to arrive at a general figure showing how serious the situation is. If the Covid Alert is 5, for example, the NHS would be at risk of being overwhelmed. Covid Alert 1, on the other hand, is that coronavirus is not longer present in the UK (which seems scientifically impossible). The other 3 levels are not explained.
The UK was at Covid Alert level 4 from March to now (one from maximum) but is now in Level 3. Again, Level 3 is not explained.

Step 1 to Ending Lockdown

Step 1 is happening immediately:

a. People who cannot work from home are now immediately ‘actively encouraged’ to return to work. It is not clear if this applies to workers whose workplaces are closed by law, like schools or shop workers, or just to workers whose workplaces are still legally open. Manufacturing and construction workers are specifically mentioned but this may not be everyone encouraged to go back to work. It is not clear whether employers will be able to require employees to return to work. There will be some new ‘Covid-Secure’ working safety standards but it is not clear what these are or when they will be introduced – or whether they will actually work. It is not clear either what ‘cannot work from home’ actually means – is this up to employers to decide? Most importantly, it is not clear whether people who ‘cannot work from home’ will continue to be entitled to the furlough payments or to state benefits.
b. People should travel to work by walking, cycling or car, but not public transport. Public transport will stay reduced in volume and ’Covid-Secure’ social distancing will be enforced on public transport, which will reduce their capacity.
c. From Wednesday, everyone will be encouraged to have unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise, including previously non-essential journeys like leisure, sunbathing or sport. People can drive themselves to places for this purpose if they like. Social distancing should still be observed. This effectively means everyone is being encouraged to go out whenever they like to public open spaces, including parks, beaches, country parks and beauty spots, to enjoy themselves. It is not clear whether destination spots like stately homes, country parks, etc, along with public sport facilities, will now be re-opened.

Step 2 – Schools

Step 2, IF the Covid Alert level and the five tests allow, is:

a. the opening of primary schools for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. The Government will issue guidance about social distancing in schools.
b. There is also an ambition that current Year 10 and 12 secondary pupils will ‘spend time with their teachers before the summer holidays’
c. Shops will be re-opened, although it is not clear whether this is all shops or just some of them
The earliest that Step 2 will begin is 1 June (only 3 weeks’ time).

Step 3 – Public Places

Step 3, IF the Covid Alert level and the five tests allow, is to re-open some or all hospitality and public destinations like shopping centres, hotels, pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres etc. Social distancing will be introduced and enforced. The earliest Step 3 will begin is ‘July’ (7 weeks away).

Local Monitoring

The Government plan to monitor Covid-19 at national, regional and local levels and there may be different Covid Alert stages at these levels. So, one town or region might have a higher alert level than another, with potentially different lockdown measures in place. How this will work in practice with people moving around the country isn’t explained.

What’s Missing?

There is no mention whatsoever of the 2-3 million people who are either shielding from the virus or clinically vulnerable to it. This is a huge glaring omission.
There is no mention of university re-opening or how primary and secondary schools will fully reopen. There is no mention of whether there will new Regulations governing what people can do or which places can stay open.
There is no mention of how the furlough system will continue or be changed, or how state benefits will work when people are no longer required to stay off work.