Pubs, restaurants and hotels in England will reopen at the end of next week after Boris Johnson announced a dramatic easing of lockdown rules. The prime minister told MPs that the two-metre social distancing requirement will be cut to one metre and any two households will be able to meet in one another's homes.
Hairdressers, social clubs, museums and amusement arcades can reopen but nail bars, beauty parlours and indoor gyms must remain closed. Churches and other places of worship can reopen for services but without singing and theatres and music halls can also open their doors but cannot stage performances.
“Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end. Life is returning to our streets and to our shops, the bustle is starting to come back and a new but cautious optimism is palpable, but I must say to the House that it would be all too easy for that frost to return. That is why we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and to see us to victory over this virus,” Mr Johnson told the House of Commons.
Labour leader Keir Starmer offered his support for the changes, acknowledging that “there are no easy decisions to be made here” and that the risks of opening up had to be balanced with the damage caused by keeping the economy closed. But he said the changes could also create complications for businesses which had already spent thousands of pounds preparing to operate under the two-metre rule.
“It is important that the prime minister clarifies when the full track, trace and isolate system will be in place. Today is an important step in the fight against this virus. We will scrutinise the detail, and we do want more clarity, but we welcome the thrust of the statement,” he said.
At a press conference in Downing Street, chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that fighting the virus was a “long haul” and that some restrictions will have to remain in place until a vaccine or a treatment is found.
“I would be surprised and delighted if we weren’t in this current situation through the winter and into next spring. I think then let’s regroup and work out where we are. I expect there to be a significant amount of coronavirus circulating at least into that time and I think it is going to be quite optimistic that for science to come fully to the rescue over that kind of timeframe,” he said.
“But I have an absolute confidence in the capacity of science to overcome infectious diseases – it has done that repeatedly and it will do that for this virus, whether that is by drugs, vaccines or indeed other things that may come into play. For medium to long term, I’m optimistic. But for the short to medium term, until this time next year, certainly I think we should be planning for what I consider to be the long haul into 2021.”