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Prime Minister gives update on Covid-19 Strategy

11 May 2020 (updated on 11 May 2020)

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Following his announcement over the weekend on the country's lockdown situation during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made a statement to the House of Commons updating MPs on the government's Covid-19 Strategy.

The Prime Minister today addressed the House by talking about the “next steps in our battle against the coronavirus and how we can with the upmost caution gradually begin to rebuild our economy and re-open our society.”

He said:

“All of our events have been directed towards protecting the NHS and saving lives.”

The Prime Minister emphasised that the challenge now is to find a way forward "that preserves our hard won gains while easing the burden of the lockdown, adding that “this is a supremely difficult balance to strike.”

Prime Minister: "No greater mistake than to jeopardise everything."

Speaking about changes to the UK's current lockdown situation, he said that“there can be no greater mistake than to jeopardise everything that we have striven to achieve by proceeding to far and too fast.” Mr Johnson added that the government's plans will not be driven by economic revival, but by data and science and public health.

The five essential tests

The Prime Minister explained that today the government is submitting to the House a plan “which is conditional and dependent as always on the common sense and observance of the British people, and on continual reassessment of the data.” He added that, “that picture varies across the regions and of the home nations of the United Kingdom, requiring a flexible response.”

He said:

“Our progress will depend on meeting five essential tests; protecting the NHS; reducing both the daily death toll and the Infection rate in a sustained way; insuring that testing and PPE can meet future demand; and avoiding a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS.”

The House was told that a new UK-wide joint biosecurity centre will measure progress with a five stage Covid alert system. Mr Johnson added that he hopes the scientific advice will tell us that we are down to level three, but that this will only happen if everyone continues to play their part to stay alert and to follow the rules.

On the subject of Covid-19 epidemic in care homes, he said that “while the situation is thankfully improving, there is a vast amount more to be done.”

On the UK's system of testing, tracking, and tracing, Mr Johnson updated the House on Baroness Harding taking charge of a program that will “ultimately enable us to test hundreds of thousands of people everyday.”

The Prime Minister proceeded to tell the House that at this stage the government will go no further than to announce the first careful modification of its measures to move towards “Covid alert level three.”

He said:

“Step one – a shift in emphasis that we can begin this week. Anyone who cannot work from home should be actively encouraged to go to work and sectors that are allowed to be open should indeed be open, but subject to social distancing. These include; food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution, scientific research.”

He added that to support this the government is publishing guidance for businesses on how to make these workplaces safe, and added that people should avoid to use public transport wherever possible in order to maintain social distancing.

Adding to previous updates, the Prime Minister said that wearing a cloth face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, is now advised. He added however that this does not mean wearing medical face masks which must be reserved for people who need them.

On outdoor exercise, he said that from Wednesday there will be no limit on the frequency of outdoor exercise people can take, adding that “you can now walk, sit and rest in parks. You can play sports and exercise” with members of your own household or with one other person from another household provided you observe social distancing.

Finally, speaking about future plans, the Prime Minister said:

“The government has asked Sage when and how we can safely allow people to expand their household group to include one other household on a strictly reciprocal basis. No earlier than July, we may be able to move to step three, if and only if supported by the data and the best scientific advice. We will then aim to reopen some remaining businesses, including potentially hospitality, cinemas and hairdressers, as well as places of worship and leisure facilities."

Keir Starmer MP: "what the country needs at this time is clarity and reassurance."

The Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer began by acknowledging the difficulty of the decisions which are being taken.

He said that:

“What the country needs at this time is clarity and reassurance, and at the moment both are in very short supply.”

He added that the heart of the problem was the Prime Minister's announcement on Sunday evening before the plan was written or finalised, which Mr Starmer expressed has caused significant confusion.

Mr Starmer expressed that one of the key issues is whether there will be guidelines in place to ensure safety at the workforce, adding that so far they have been vague and with gaps in. He asked the Prime Minister if these guidelines will be ready for Wednesday, as there will be people returning to work, and whether these guidelines have been agreed with by businesses and trade unions, and if this guidelines only apply in England.

Speaking about concerns about getting to work, the Leader of the Opposition questioned why guidelines again were not ready, asking “are they coming tomorrow, ready for Wednesday, or later in the week because otherwise people will be using public transport.”

Regarding concerns from those with childcare responsibilities, Mr Starmer asked whether these people should be going back to work on Wednesday or not. On the subject of international travel, he said:

“given that 100,000 people have arrived in the UK since the start of the lockdown, why is that only being introduced now, and is it only for those arriving by air?”

Speaking about the UK government and those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mr Starmer added that “there's not consensus now either on messaging or on policy”, and that this raises concerns with a danger of divergence.

Referring to a press release written by Number 10, Mr Starmer said the press release said “that from Monday, today, anyone who can't work from home […] should be encouraged to work.” Mr Starmer added that this had caused confusion about when people should go back to work.

Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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