Plans to further ease lockdown measures in England scrapped, says PM

31 July 2020, 12:17

Boris Johnson was speaking during a briefing from Downing Street on Friday
Boris Johnson was speaking during a briefing from Downing Street on Friday. Picture: 10 Downing Street
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Plans to further ease coronavirus lockdown measures in England from Saturday have been scrapped, Boris Johnson has announced.

The prime minister told the Downing Street press conference on Friday that the nation "must squeeze the brakes" on lifting lockdown measures.

It means casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and indoor performances will not be free to restart as planned from tomorrow.

He said the easing of restrictions would now be postponed until 15 August, but reminded people this would remain under review.

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Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty appeared alongside the prime minister, warning the UK has potentially reached a limit for how much of society can be opened up.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson explained that the prevalence of Covid-19 in the community is likely to be rising for the first time since May.

It means face masks and coverings will now be mandatory in indoor settings where people are likely to come into contact with people they do not know, such as museums and places of worship, from 8 August.

He told reporters: "With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should squeeze that brake pedal... in order to keep the virus under control.

"On Saturday 1 August, you'll remember we had hoped to reopen a number of the higher-risk settings that had remained closed and today I'm saying we're postponing those changes for at least a fortnight.

"That means until 15 August at the earliest casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and the remaining close-contact services must remain closed.

"Indoor performances will not resume, pilots of larger gatherings in sports venues and conference centres will not take place, and wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted."

The prime minister added: "I know that the steps we are taking will be a real blow to many people, to everyone whose wedding plans have been disrupted or who cannot now celebrate Eid in the way that they would wish.

"And I'm really, really sorry about that but we cannot simply take the risk."

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He said the UK cannot afford to be complacent in fighting coronavirus and that the country is not exempt from the challenges facing other nations, such as rising infections rates.

Prof Whitty warned that the UK looks to have reached a limit for how much of society can be opened up.

He said: "I think what we're seeing from the data from ONS and other data is that we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society.

"So what that means potentially is that if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.

"And these will be difficult trade-offs, some of which will be decisions for government and some of which are for all of us as citizens to do.

"But we have to be realistic about this. The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong."

However, the prime minister confirmed that guidance to employers - planned for implementation tomorrow - about getting staff back to work safely remains unchanged.

He said: "Two weeks ago, I also said that from tomorrow the government would give employers more discretion over how employees can work safely – whether by continuing to work from home or attending a Covid-secure workplace.

"We know that employers have gone to huge lengths to make workplaces safe, so that guidance remains unchanged."

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC that the new social restrictions implemented in northern England last night were due to a "stubbornly high" rise in Covid-19 infections.

Meanwhile, local MPs have urged the government to provide clarity over the new measures amid confusion over what the rules mean.

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