Coronavirus: Go to work if you can’t work from home, says Johnson, as he eases lockdown

In TV address, PM says phased lifting of restrictions conditional on success in suppressing virus

Golf, tennis and angling involving members of the same household, unlimited individual exercise and sunbathing in parks and on beaches will be allowed in England from Wednesday under an easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

In a televised address from Downing Street, Boris Johnson said those who cannot work from home, including workers in construction and manufacturing, should be "actively encouraged" to go back to work this week.

He said that the UK, which has lost more lives to coronavirus than any other country in Europe, had to balance the need to suppress the Covid-19 virus with the damage caused by the lockdown.

“We must continue to control the virus and save lives. And yet we must also recognise that this campaign against the virus has come at colossal cost to our way of life,” he said.


“We can see it all around us in the shuttered shops and abandoned businesses and darkened pubs and restaurants. And there are millions of people who are both fearful of this terrible disease, and at the same time also fearful of what this long period of enforced inactivity will do to their livelihoods and their mental and physical wellbeing.”

But the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said before the prime minister's statement that they were not ready to start lifting the lockdown. And they rejected the prime minister's new slogan "Stay alert, control the virus, save lives", saying they would continue to promote the slogan "Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives".

"It is important that we do what is right in our region of the United Kingdom moving forward. That is why we are coming forward with our roadmap next week. It will set out how we can take graduated steps back to what will be a different normality," Northern Ireland's first minister, Arlene Foster, told Sky News.


Mr Johnson said the phased lifting of restrictions, which would see primary schools and non-essential shops reopening on June 1st, was conditional on the country’s success in suppressing the virus. Under the plan, open-air cafes and restaurants with outside seating could reopen in July, along with places of worship and possibly cinemas.

From the end of this month, people arriving into Britain from outside the jurisdiction will be required to self-isolate for 14 days and will face heavy fines if they do not comply.

A new alert system will rank the threat of the virus in five levels, with five representing a level of infection that could overwhelm the National Health Service (NHS). Mr Johnson said that over the period of the lockdown Britain has been in Level Four and the phased changes would take the country to Level Three.

A total of 31,855 people have died from coronavirus in Britain and Mr Johnson acknowledged that the UK had much to do to ensure that the R number – the rate of infection – remained below 1.

“Throughout this period of the next two months we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity. We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health. And I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big Ifs. It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R down,” he said.


Responding to the address, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson had raised more questions than he had answered and there was now the prospect of different parts of the UK pulling in different directions. “What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those,” he said in a statement.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford stressed following the address that coronavirus advice in Wales “has not changed”, with people still urged to stay at home.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the only modification she was making to lockdown measures was to allow people to exercise more. “[That] is the only change that the Scottish government judges that it is safe to make right now without risking a rapid resurgence of the virus,” she told a news conference, adding that she had asked the UK government not to use its “stay alert” advertising campaign in Scotland.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted that “we have not defeated this virus yet”, saying that lockdown had not been lifted and that it was imperative that everyone continues to stay home as much as possible. Additional reporting: Reuters/PA

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times