London: The coronavirus lockdown began easing up in England on Wednesday, with workers unable to work from home able to head to work but advised to avoid public transport and opt for cycling, walking or driving as far as possible.
Under the step by step plan laid out by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Parliament this week, people are now able to spend more time outside, meet one person outside of their own household in the outdoors and move home, as the government began easing some lockdown measures.
Sports that are physically distanced, such as golf, are also permitted now and people are advised to use face coverings while commuting.
There is some divergence in lockdown rules between the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are keeping stricter stay at home measures in place.
The UK, meanwhile, has moved to a stay alert system alongside a five-level threat level system to monitor the spread of the disease and keep a lid on the R’ rate the rate at which the virus spreads.
The worst possible outcome would be a return to the virus being out of control with the cost to human life, and through the inevitable re-imposition of severe restrictions the cost to the economy. We must stay alert, control the virus, and in doing so, save lives, Johnson said.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, expressed concerns about people feeling forced to return to work too soon, after Johnson said some workplaces could actively encourage staff to return from Wednesday, as long as they complied with new COVID-secure guidance.
Sturgeon said, I know that the UK government published guidance for businesses. That guidance is not operational in Scotland at this stage, since we are not currently encouraging more people to go back to work.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has a similar approach for the region and has said police will patrol the border with England in order to advise and explain to potential holidaymakers that they should return home.
In England, employers have been issued with guidelines on keeping workplaces as safe as possible, including the use of staggered shifts and frequent cleaning. And those who flout the rules could face criminal proceedings, the Health and Safety Executive watchdog has warned.
The updated lockdown regulations put in place to curb the spread of the deadly virus, which has claimed over 32,000 lives in the UK, also allow people to leave their homes to collect goods ordered from businesses or to travel to waste or recycling centres.
Some outdoor sports can get under way again, with golf clubs and tennis courts expected to reopen to the public. Restrictions have also been lifted on how far people can travel to get to the countryside, national parks and beaches in England.
However, people have been warned to respect local communities, keep their distance from others and avoid hotspots or busy areas.
The government is still advising people to only use public transport for essential journeys and reiterated that staying overnight at a holiday or second home was not allowed.
Those who break the rules will now face fines starting at GBP 100 in England, and this will double on each further repeat offence up to GBP 3,200.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman, Martin Hewitt, said officers would “continue to use common sense and discretion” in policing the new rules.