It is a roadmap that Boris Johnson hopes will steer England to a “more significant return to normality” as the country shifts towards more localised action to target Covid-19. At a Downing Street press conference on Friday, the prime minister announced:
Social distancing rules could change
In a surprise move, Johnson indicated that it might “be possible to move away from the social distancing measures” by November at the earliest.
In response to a question from a member of the public about contact with grandchildren, he said: “I think what we’re trying to say about the one-metre rule generally and social distancing generally is that, clearly, looking through till the spring, looking through to the long-term impacts that social distancing will continue to have on many sectors of the UK economy … we hope that by November, at the earliest, if we can continue to make progress in our struggle against the virus then it may, may conceivably be possible to move away from the social distancing measures.”
However, he cautioned: “That is entirely conditional, as I say, on our ability to continue to keep the virus under control.”
New powers for local authorities
Local authorities will have new powers from Saturday to close specific premises, shut outdoor spaces and cancel events. “These powers will enable local authorities to act more quickly in response to outbreaks where speed is paramount,” Johnson said.
New regulations set out in draft in parliament next week will allow central government to intervene in local areas by issuing “stay-at-home” orders, limit the numbers at gatherings beyond national rules and restrict transport. “Where justified by the evidence, ministers will be able to close whole sectors or types of premises in an area, introduce local stay-at-home orders, prevent people entering or leaving defined areas, reduce the size of gatherings beyond the national defined rules or restrict transport systems serving local areas,” Johnson said.
A flu vaccine programme and £3bn for the NHS
Johnson announced that the government would roll out the “biggest ever flu vaccination programme in the history of the UK”. The prime minister said: “I can confirm that we’re providing an additional £3bn of funding for the NHS in England to get ready for winter. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funds. This will allow the NHS to continue to use the extra hospital capacity acquired from the independent sector, and also to maintain the Nightingale hospitals, until the end of March.”
Coronavirus testing capacity to go up to 500,000 a day
Coronavirus testing will be boosted to increase capacity to “at least” half a million a day, some 3.5m a week, by the end of October. An extra £3bn is being provided for the NHS to prepare for possible second coronavirus wave.
Johnson said: “Where justified by the evidence, ministers will be able to close whole sectors, or types of premises in an area. Introduce local stay at home orders, prevent people entering or leaving defined areas; reduce the maximum size of gatherings beyond national rules, or restrict transport systems serving local areas.”
Advice on using public transport changed
Current advice to avoid public transport in England is being scrapped. Johnson said: “We are making clear that anybody may use public transport, while of course encouraging people to consider alternative means of transport, where they’re available.”
Encouraging a return to work in August
It will be up to employers to discuss with workers whether it is safe to return from 1 August. The prime minister explained: “What we are saying, is from 1 August, if they can talk to their employees, if everybody can discuss it in a serious and grown-up way, if we can be confident that the places of work are Covid-secure – which I’m sure we can – then employers, working with their employees, should be encouraging people to get back to work where that is right for that employee.”
Casinos to open but soft play areas to stay shut
Most remaining leisure settings, including bowling, skating rings, casinos and close contact services such as beauticians will be allowed to reopen from 1 August. But nightclubs and soft play areas will stay closed.
Indoor performances and sport stadiums set to come back
Indoor performances to live audiences including theatres will also restart from 1 August, subject to pilots. Larger gatherings in sports stadiums will also be piloted with a view to reopening in the autumn. Wedding receptions for up to 30 people will also be allowed.