It seems to me that traffic and people outside walking around are very much back to normal despite the fact that we are still meant to be in lockdown. I accept the ‘Cummings’ factor in all of this but, in truth, this was happening regardless of the furore last week over the trip that the Prime Minister’s principal aide took to and around Durham.
On 13 May, substantial changes were made to allow people increased freedoms in line with relaxed government guidance. Boris Johnson published his plan to ‘give people hope’ in the form of his long-awaited plan for getting Britain out of its Coronavirus lockdown. Entitled ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’, the 51-page dossier sets out a three-step strategy for gradually lifting the current restrictions and, from 13 May, we have been in Step 1.
I have had a good root through those 51 pages and looked particularly at what each step means for those of us still homebound.
However, there are some warnings and caveats in the foreword of ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ signed by Boris Johnson. There he states that the document sets out proposals to rebuild the UK for a world with COVID-19. It does not envisage a quick return to normality. Despite all the hopes and excitement, the Prime Minister warns that a mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, there may never be a vaccine. He implies that we will have to live with threat posed by Coronavirus and work out a way of living in the long term. To be honest I have never doubted that and believe we may simply have to develop what is called ‘herd immunity’ whether we like it or not.
I noticed that the document stated that the Government will need to steadily redesign the current social distancing measures. I agree with that and wonder why we have a 2-metre social distance rule when so many other countries have half that? It would make things so much easier all-round if this were to happen and soon. I will return to this point later in my post.
We are about to start Step 2 of coming out of lockdown with Step 1 now complete. I won’t waste time be repeating measures lifted in Step 1 but will instead look to the future with Steps 2 and 3. Let me explain what I think will happen in each of those steps.
Step 2 (from tomorrow)
It has already been announced that schools will partially reopen for set year groups. For instance, we know that primary schools are now planning to welcome back Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes. Secondary schools are expected to reopen for Years 10 and 12 on 15 June.
In addition, there will be a phased re-opening of non-essential retail shops also starting in Step 2.
Dentists in England have been told they can re-open from June 8, but many practices warn they won't be ready in time.
More sport is also on the way back. We could see the first Premier League matches on the 17th of June – not sure though how you can tackle from 6 feet!
In this second step groups of up to 6 people can meet, perhaps in one another’s gardens. That means grandparents could see their grandchildren and those wishing to see their parents could do so too. But the social distance of 2 metres must be maintained and meetings should not be indoors. Lavatories can be used but then all surfaces must be disinfected thereafter.
Step 3 (Not envisaged before 4 July)
This step almost takes us back to normality. In it remaining businesses and premises that have been closed, such as such as hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons, restaurants, cafes, pubs, hotels, churches, mosques, temples and cinemas could re-open. They would also have to meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines. Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part. Nevertheless. The document maintains the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.
In order to facilitate the fastest possible re-opening of these types of higher-risk businesses and public places, the Government intends to carefully phase and pilot re-openings to test their ability to adopt new COVID-19 Secure guidelines. It will also monitor carefully the effects of re-opening other similar establishments elsewhere in the world, as this happens. The Government will establish a series of taskforces to work closely with people operating in these sectors to develop ways in which they can make these businesses and public places Coronavirus Secure.
In truth implementing both Step 2 and 3 would be so much easier if that 2-metre social distance requirement was to be reduced down to 1.5 metres or better, down to I metre, as it is in some other countries. As I have already mentioned this is actively being considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) now and I really hope the Committee comes to the conclusion that it can work safely.
So, we have a way ahead. It seems a pretty straightforward and sensible plan to me. But we mustn’t get too excited or break the restrictions on us too early. The Government has been quite clear. All depends on that wretched R number remaining below One. Pray that it does stay that way as we ease restrictions. That is down to all of us; being sensible about things and continuing with the superb self-discipline which so many people have enforced on themselves to date. Fingers crossed all round.