Boris Johnson to reveal five-stage warning scheme ahead of easing restrictions

10 May 2020, 07:54

The PM will address the nation on Sunday evening
The PM will address the nation on Sunday evening. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister is expected to reveal a warning system for coronavirus when he sets out his "roadmap" on easing the lockdown and dropping the "stay home" slogan.

Boris Johnson is expected to tell the nation to "stay alert, control the virus and save lives" when addresses the country on Sunday evening to tell them his plans to a new normality.

The PM is set to urge those who cannot work from home to start returning to their workplaces while following coronavirus social-distancing rules.

"This is the dangerous bit," he warned ahead of the announcement.

A five-stage system administered by a new "joint biosecurity centre" will detect increases in Covid-19 infection rates and judge how strict lockdown measures and social distancing rules should be locally in England.\

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick described the new message on coronavirus, and said he hopes it is not too woolly, saying a "broader" slogan is needed as the Government tries to restart the economy.

Mr Jenrick told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday the message needs to encourage people to resume their roles at work while staying safe.

"We're not going to take risks with the public. I understand people are anxious about the future but we want now to have a message which encourages people to go to work," he told Ridge.

"Staying home will still be an important part of the message but you will be able to go to work and you will in time be able to do some other activities that you're not able to do today."

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The new biosecurity centre will detect local increases in infection rates, with the view to locally alter restrictions in England.

With the alerts ranging from green in level one to red in level five, Mr Johnson is expected to say the nation is close to moving down from four to three.

The PM will chair a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee with Cabinet ministers, leaders of the devolved nations and London Mayor Sadiq Khan before his 7pm pre-recorded address.

On Monday, the Government will publish a 50-page document outlining the full plan to cautiously re-start the economy to MPs after figures suggested the overall death toll for the UK has passed 36,500.

The shift in messaging will come amid concerns that workers may not feel comfortable resuming their roles after the weeks of firm instructions to "stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives".

That could be a test for ministers, with unions warning that they might not recommend their millions-strong membership to resume their roles if safety is not assured.

"The trade union movement wants to be able to recommend the Government's back-to-work plans," Unison, Unite, the GMB, Usdaw and the Trades Union Congress wrote in a letter to the Observer.

"But for us to do that we need to ensure that ministers have listened and that we stay safe and save lives at work too."

Meanwhile, a scientific adviser to the Government told the Sunday Times that the UK could still suffer more than 100,000 deaths by the end of the year if measures are hastily relaxed, adding: "There is very limited room for manoeuvre."

Mr Johnson acknowledged the scale of the danger, saying "we'll have to work even harder to get every step right" now the peak is passed, before making a mountaineering analogy.

"You have very few options on the climb up - but it's on the descent you have to make sure you don't run too fast, lose control and stumble," he told the Sun on Sunday.

Later this week, Mr Johnson will address the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives amid concerns that some of his MPs will be unenthused by the gradual easing.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the Downing Street briefing on Sunday that the PM would be proceeding with "extreme caution".

The incoming changes for England were only expected to be very modest, with a lifting the limit of only one form of exercise per day and to permit garden centres to reopen.

But in a toughening of measures, fines for those who fail to abide by the rules will be hiked.

Mr Shapps did not deny that ministers were planning to impose a 14-day quarantine on people arriving in the UK by plane from any country apart from the Republic of Ireland.

He declined to address widespread calls for clarity, with it unclear whether the rule would also apply to passengers arriving by boat and whether businesses would receive extra support because of fears the measure would be disastrous for industry.

The Cabinet minister did however address concerns that progress in the lockdown was being damaged, saying "throwing it away because it happens to be sunny outside this weekend, that would be absolutely tragic".

Earlier, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the PM's announcement for England would be "very much in line" with the "very smallest" easing granted in his nation.

Schools in Wales would not be reopening to the majority of pupils in June, he added.

Mr Shapps led the briefing to announce a £250 million emergency package to boost cycling and walking, warning that only one in 10 passengers could travel on some forms of public transport while abiding by the two metre social distancing rule.

"Getting Britain moving again" presents an "enormous logistical challenge", he said, but would be aided by pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle and bus-only streets.

"Moving beyond Covid will be a gradual process, not a single leap to freedom, so when we do emerge the world will seem quite different," Mr Shapps added.