News World Boris Johnson announces easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions but faces backlash
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Boris Johnson announces easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions but faces backlash

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a loosening of Britain’s coronavirus lockdown rules but faces a rebellion from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about supposed mixed messaging.

From Wednesday, people in Britain will be allowed to spend as much time as they want outside and travel to work if they cannot work from home, providing social-distancing measures are followed and the rate of COVID-19 re-infection stays below one.

“We want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise,” Mr Johnson said in an address from Downing Street.

“You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.

“You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.”

Britain has been in lockdown since March 23. It limited people to one form of exercise a day and allowed them to leave home only for essential goods and medicine.

Mr Johnson said those who could not work from home would be urged to return to work, preferably by car, bicycle or walking, rather than public transport.

“Anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction and manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work,” he said.

All schools and non-essential shops would remain shut in Britain until at least June, Mr Johnson said. Some parts of the hospitality industry would not open until at least July.

“We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous,” Mr Johnson said.

“We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we need.”

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson’s announcement “lacked clarity” and raised more questions than it answered.

“This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions,” Mr Starmer said.

“The Prime Minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.

“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”

On Sunday, Britain’s death toll from coronavirus rose by 269 to 31,855 people. It is the highest in the world behind the US.

Scotland says change to messaging ‘catastrophic’

At the weekend, the British government unveiled a new slogan – “Stay Alert, Control The Virus, Save Lives” – a departure from the previous “Stay Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives” policy from the start of the crisis.

But before Mr Johnson’s announcement on Sunday, the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all said they retain the “Stay at Home” messaging.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the only changes she would make would be to allow people to exercise more than once a day from Monday. She also hit out at the government’s new slogan.

“For Scotland right now, given the fragility of the progress we have made, given the critical point we are at, it would be catastrophic for me to drop the stay at home message,” she said, adding that she was not prepared to drop it “in favour of a message that is vague and imprecise”.

Ms Sturgeon’s Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford said the message would not be changed in Wales while Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster also said her nation would continue to use “Stay At Home” message.

-ABC