UK’s Johnson clarifies lockdown easing plan at press conference
London, May 11 (EFE).- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday evening held a press conference in London to discuss his plan to ease lockdown restrictions, taking questions from both the public and reporters.
He said that he understood why some people were “perplexed” or confused about his plan and wanted to take the opportunity to clarify elements of it, urged the public to “use good, solid British common sense” in interpreting the new rules.
The premier laid out the government’s new strategy – titled “Our Plan to Rebuild” – in his nationwide address on the matter on Sunday evening, and on Monday the government published a 51-page explanation of how the restrictions will gradually be lifted, although he warned that in the absence of a vaccine British society could be in for a “long haul” struggle against the virus.
At the Monday evening presser, the premier highlighted the importance of what British authorities have called the “R value,” saying that: “The lower the (R) level, the fewer the (restriction) measures” that will be required, adding that the government will monitor the R level on an ongoing basis to determine if lockdown measures can be eased and in what locations that can be done.
He said that: “After each step we will closely monitor the impact of that step on the R and the number of infections,” noting that “We’ll only take the next step when we are satisfied it is safe to do so.”
On the subject of Britons being allowed to return to work and companies to resume their activities, Johnson reiterated what he had said Sunday evening in a nationwide televised address to announce the plan, namely that only people who cannot work from home, such as construction and manufacturing workers, should go back work.
“Those who cannot work from home should now speak to their employer about going back to work,” he said, adding that those people who can continue to work from home should do so, noting that “For the vast majority of people (this) still means staying at home as much as possible.”
Johnson admitted that a vaccine for the coronavirus has not yet been found, although he said he had heard “positive noises” that one would be discovered, adding however that finding one could take years and “is by no means guaranteed.”
He noted that “Even after 18 years we still don’t have a vaccine for SARS,” another deadly type of coronavirus similar to the one that spread worldwide from Wuhan, China, starting last December and is the cause of the current pandemic.
Johnson said at the presser that people would be allowed to have contact with others outside their households for the first time since the lockdown was imposed in Britain, but he explained that people could meet only outdoors and the two-meter (six-foot) social distancing guidelines must be adhered to.
“There are new flexibilities to ensure people can see somebody who isn’t in their household, ” he said, “but you have to do it one-on-one, outdoors.”
Earlier on Monday, Johnson had been accused of risking lives and sending mixed messages to the public as the United Kingdom started to ease its lockdown, despite having the second highest coronavirus death toll in the world and the third highest number of cases.
In his Sunday night speech, Johnson – who battled his own bout of Covid-19 over the past few weeks, saying that the disease almost killed him – described the first phase of the plan as a “conditional plan” to reopen British society, although he has faced mounting criticism over his handling of the crisis and has been accused of creating confusion around his road map to reboot the country’s economy.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “It is obvious the last 24 hours have spread confusion” adding that “mixed messaging risks lives.”
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said there was confusion over how the four UK nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – would relax the measures currently in place.
“There is not consensus either on messaging now or on policy between the UK government and those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland,” Starmer said, warning this would lead to a real danger of divergence.
“There are lots of questions and so far precious few answers,” the Labour leader said. “The country does need clarity on this and people need reassurance. Above all else they need it in the next 48 hours, so can the PM please provide clarity?”
In his address on Sunday evening, Johnson had called on employees who are unable to work remotely to return to work on Monday, but to avoid using public transport.
The announcement came after the government’s previous advice had been to urge all people to only go to work if they had to.
“We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work,” Johnson said.