England eases coronavirus restrictions but fines will increase
13 May 2020, 06:12
Lockdown restrictions in England will be relaxed from today with people able to spend more time outside, meet a friend at the park or buy a new house.
The changes to the coronavirus lockdown which Boris Johnson imposed seven weeks ago have sparked anger among some as they remain unable to visit loved ones but can now be shown around a property for sale.
The move to unlock the housing market comes as the death toll from Covid-19 continues to rise. As we reported earlier from Wednesday, show homes will be able to open back up to the public, while removal companies and other essential parts of the sales and letting process can restart with immediate effect.
The public will also be able to take unlimited exercise, meet one person from another household in a public space will also be permitted in England from Wednesday, as long as the two-metre rule is respected.
One activity which saw large numbers of people moved on was sunbathing in parks, which will also be allowed under the new rules, while golf clubs, tennis courts and angling have been given the green light.
Restrictions on how far people can travel to get to the countryside, national parks and beaches in England have also been lifted - but people have been warned to respect local communities, keep their distance from others and avoid hotspots or busy areas.
Government advice on not taking public transport, apart from for essential journeys, remains the same, with the public advised to free up services for key workers.
The cost of fines for breaching the rules will also increase with the initial fine now starting at £100 in England, which will double on each further repeat offence up to £3,200. Stricter rules remain in place in the rest of the UK.
National Police Chiefs' Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would "continue to use common sense and discretion" in policing the new rules.
"The efforts of the public mean police officers have rarely had to enforce the Government regulations so far. I am confident the vast majority will continue to do their bit and follow guidance in this next stage.
"We are all now able to spend much more time outdoors and each of us need to take responsibility for doing that within the social restrictions set out by the Government.
"Our approach will continue to use common sense and discretion, and to engage, explain, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce."
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph said a Treasury document estimated the UK's deficit could reach £337 billion this year because of the pandemic, compared to the forecast £55 billion in the Budget announced in March.
It said the assessment, drawn up for the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and dated May 5, warned that filling such a gap through tax rises would be "very challenging without breaking the tax lock".
The paper said measures including income tax hikes, a two-year public sector pay freeze and the end of the triple lock on pensions may be required to fund the debt.
As we reported yesterday the Chancellor announced the furlough scheme, currently supporting 7.5 million jobs, will be extended until the end of October, although employers will be expected to pick up a share of the bill from August as the economy reopens.
And the human toll of the Covid-19 pandemic was laid bare in official figures indicating a toll of more than 40,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick added: "Spending time outdoors, exercising or just enjoying the countryside is essential for our physical health and wellbeing. The restrictions have impacted everyone, but particularly those without much living space or a garden.
"We want to make life as healthy, bearable and social as possible, whilst controlling the virus and saving lives. That is why we have worked to find safe ways to enable more people to spend more time outdoors."