Boris Johnson has announced details of a new COVID Alert system and given an update on the UK’s lockdown restrictions in his latest national address.
The Prime Minister praised the country’s citizens for their “good sense” in following the rules imposed by the government so far in today’s (May 10) televised message, saying the measures had prevented “what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst-case scenario was half a million fatalities.”
While Johnson noted both the rate of deaths and hospital admissions were dropping, he said it was not yet time to end the lockdown. A new COVID Alert system has been created and will be run by a joint biosecurity centre to monitor both the number of coronavirus cases in the UK and the rate of infection. Its findings will tell the government “how tough we have to be in our measures.”
The system will feature five levels, with level one meaning the virus is no longer present in the UK and level five representing “the most critical situation” in which the NHS would be overwhelmed by the number of cases. Johnson said the country has been at level four and is now in a position to “move in steps to level three.” It will be able to detect local flare-ups as well as give “a national picture,” and has been created after consultation “across the political spectrum” and with all four countries in the UK.
The ability to move forward in reopening the UK will be determined by five tests in “a conditional plan,” which will be charted by the new system. These include the NHS being able to provide sufficient care across the UK, a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths, the rate of infection decreasing, the ability to meet the demand for testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and adjusting measures not risking a second peak that overwhelms the NHS.
"To chart our progress and to avoid going back to square one, we are establishing a new Covid Alert System"
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 10, 2020
Johnson added the “awful epidemics in care homes and in the NHS” must be reversed and the UK must have a “world-beating system for testing potential victims and tracing their contacts,” with the ability to test “hundreds of thousands of people every day.”
Although lockdown will not come to an end at present, the Prime Minister said the government was “taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.” He once again urged all those who are able to work from home to do so, but said if those who couldn’t – like workers in industries like construction and manufacturing – should go to work while maintaining social distancing. He said new guidance would be given to employers to “make workplaces COVID secure,” while “public transport operators will also be following COVID secure standards.” However, he urged people to avoid public transport if possible.
From Wednesday (May 13), the restrictions on the limited of outdoors exercise time would be lifted, with the public encouraged to “take more and even unlimited” time outside. “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can play sports – only with members of your own household,” Johnson said. Social distancing measures must still be adhered to and fines will be increased for those not following the rules.
“From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise”
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 10, 2020
Johnson added that if the UK began to fulfil the five conditions set out, more restrictions could be lifted. Step two, which will not happen earlier than June 1, could see “the phased reopening of shops and getting primary school students back into schools.” Step three would happen at the earliest by July and would be subject to conditions and “further scientific advice,” but could see “at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places” reopened, “provided they’re safe and enforce social distancing.”
Finally, the Prime Minister said he was serving notice that it would “soon be the time” to impose quarantine on people entering the UK by air in a bid to prevent re-infection from abroad.
Johnson said he would give more details on the government’s plans in Parliament tomorrow (May 11) and would answer questions from the public in the evening.
The UK has been in strict lockdown since March 23, with measures stipulating that citizens are forced to stay at home except to shop for food and medicine, for one form of exercise per day, and to travel to and from essential workplaces.