All the things Boris Johnson DIDN’T explain: From wearing masks, seeing family to returning to work… the unanswered questions from the PM’s latest Covid address to the nation
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The Prime Minister has set out ‘the first sketch of a road map’ towards reopening society in England amid the fight against coronavirus, but viewers of his address last night will have been left with unanswered questions.
The 13-minute televised speech aimed to set out the Government’s exit strategy from the lockdown which has been in place since March 23, but there was no mention of when people can visit their family and friends.
There was also no guidance on whether people should wear face masks and how Britons can go to work in sectors such as construction when schools are still closed and there are no childcare facilities in place.
Other remaining questions include how employers can encourage people to go back to work so soon without having seen the proposed new workplace guidance and having had time to introduce new measures.
There are further concerns over whether workers will be allowed to refuse to go to their workplace if they believe it is unsafe, and why the Government believes a quarantine for UK arrivals will be effective now.
Meanwhile questions remain over whether people will have to cram on to packed trains, buses and Tubes to get to work if they do not have a car or live within walking or cycling distance.
The Prime Minister said that more details of the road map would be published today in Parliament, but here is an analysis of ten queries the public may still have as they enter week eight of lockdown:
When can people visit family and friends?
Boris Johnson mentioned nothing in the speech about when people could see their friends and relatives. Britons have had to avoid meeting up with friends since March 16, a week before the full lockdown came in on March 23.
But there are now signs that things may be about to change. Asked if someone could meet up with their parents in a park, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC today: ‘Well, you could if there’s two metres apart.’
He added: ‘If, for example, you are going to the park, and you want to – and you can stay two metres apart – you could meet up with another member of your own household.’
Boris Johnson used this graphic during his briefing, with Step 1 for this week, Step 2 planned for June and Step 3 for July
Mr Raab also said that, under the new lockdown rules, people can meet different family members separately on the same day while maintaining social distancing.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘If you’re out in the park and you’re two metres apart, we’re saying now, and use some common sense and you socially distance, you can meet up with other people.
‘The key thing is people want to get outdoors, particularly with this weather, particularly I think for mental health and, frankly, the frustration people feel if they’re cooped up for too long for protracted periods.
‘We want to make sure that that people can enjoy the outdoors more. But people must stay alert because the more we do some of the things that we want to do, the more we need to just be careful about this social distancing.’
Asked if someone could meet their mother in the morning and their father in the afternoon, he said: ‘Outside in the outdoors, staying two metres apart, yes.’
Should we wear face masks?
While the Prime Minister has insisted that social distancing ‘must be maintained’, he did not mention the use of face coverings during his address to the nation last night.
But workplaces are expected to be given new guidance on how to become ‘covid secure’, which is likely to include new rules on social distancing, wearing face masks, temperature checks and maintaining hygiene.
One academic who has backed the use of face coverings for the general public, said that the use of masks – alongside hand-washing – could help the public ease out of lockdown more safely.
Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care at the University of Oxford, said: ‘The Government has yet to take a positive stance on face coverings, which – in addition to continuing handwashing – is probably the one public health measure that could enable us to ease out of lockdown more safely.’
Babak Javid, a consultant in infectious diseases at Cambridge University hospitals, added: ‘As more workers will be returning to employment, measures that reduce transmission such as use of face coverings or masks when commuting to, and at work, especially work indoors under conditions that physical distancing may be difficult would be welcome.
‘To have substantial impact, the majority of the population would need to comply in mask usage.’
Mr Johnson said last night that fines for breaching the rules would increase, adding: ‘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.’
The PM has dropped the ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ slogan in favour of a ‘stay alert’ version – which notably has green edging instead of red
How can people go to work when schools are still closed and there are no childcare facilities?
Construction and manufacturing employees are now being ‘actively encouraged’ to return to work from today, although they will be expected to travel by car or bicycle rather than using public transport.
However, children are not expected to start returning to school in England from June 1 – while the majority of secondary school pupils will not attend class until September at the earliest.
This therefore presents major challenges for parents who are not key workers. Schools and colleges closed their doors to the majority of pupils, apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters, from March 23.
Boris Johnson said the start of June was the earliest possible date to consider the phased reopening of schools, beginning with some of the youngest pupils in reception classes, year one and year six.
The Prime Minister said that by June 1 ‘we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with reception, Year One and Year Six’.
Questions have also been asked over whether someone who has been furloughed, and now cannot return to work due to childcare issues, will still be supported by the Government.
Which other employees, aside from those in manufacturing and construction, are expected to return to work?
The Prime Minister said last night that anyone who cannot work from home, perhaps those in construction and manufacturing, ‘should be actively encouraged to go to work’
Mr Johnson also said that the Government has been establishing new guidance for employers to make workplaces ‘Covid-secure’.
But there was no guidance on when those in other industries are expected to go back to work, with the Government saying people should continue to work from home if they can.
Workers in some elements of the hospitality sector, including cinemas, park cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating, might be allowed to go back to work if their businesses reopen in July along with churches and mosques.
But Mr Johnson said these moves would risk an explosion in the virus if taken now – and warned that the second and third phases could be delayed even by months.
Mr Raab was asked today if the Government’s new ‘stay alert’ slogan meant stay at home as much as possible, and he told BBC Radio 4: ‘Yes, but, for example … if you can work from home you should continue to do so.
‘But, there are vital sectors of the economy, like manufacturing and construction where people can’t do their job from home.
‘We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.’
How can employers encourage people to go back to work so soon without having seen the guidance and having had time to introduce new measures?
Boris Johnson called for all those in the manufacturing and construction industries to go back to work this week, but there are concerns for employees’ safety if social distancing is not maintained.
Union leaders have said all employers should have to draw up and publish risk assessments and state what measures they have taken to make work safe for their employees.
They have also demanded sanctions be imposed on rogue employers and call for government investment in health and safety inspections.
Business leaders have said their practical questions must be answered to restart the economy – and whether the Government programme to pay the wages of workers under furloughing will be extended beyond the end of June.
Mr Johnson is expected to reveal new new guidance in Parliament today for employers to make workplaces ‘Covid-secure’ – but it is unclear what this means and how it will be set out.
There are also concerns over how any subsequent increase in Covid-19 cases in workplaces will be monitored.
And questions have been asked over whether the Health and Safety Executive will be given more resources to check on the health and safety of workers.
Are workers allowed to refuse to go to their workplace if they believe it is unsafe, and will they be protected from being disciplined or sacked?
The Prime Minister told Britain to ‘stay alert, control the virus and save lives’ as he outlined his ‘road map’ to a new normality during an address to the nation yesterday.
But the UK’s biggest trade unions told him that they will not recommend their millions of members return to work unless the Government guarantees ‘the right policies and practices are in place to make workplaces safe’.
This has also raised questions over whether workers will be protected if they fear going back to their workplace due to a perceived lack of safety
Leaders of Unite, Unison, the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers said significant numbers of their members have died while in essential work during the pandemic.
They wrote in a letter: ‘After years of cuts, the government must boost funding for pro-active monitoring and health and safety enforcement. And we need a public information campaign so rogue bosses face sanctions.
‘The trade union movement wants to be able to recommend the government’s back-to-work plans. But for us to do that we need to ensure that ministers have listened and that we stay safe and save lives at work too.’
It is not yet clear whether Mr Johnson believes workers and unions should be consulted before any return to work.
There are also questions over whether someone who works in manufacturing or construction is shielding should continue with this shielding – and whether they be supported.
Restrictions can ease when the transmission rate – ‘R’ – is well below 1 (left). It is currently between 0.5 and 0.9. The alert level graphic (right) rates the severity of the pandemic, with the level having been at 4 in recent months but now moving towards 3
Will people have to cram on to packed trains, buses and tubes to get to work if they do not have a car or live within walking or cycling distance?
Workers in sectors like construction and manufacturing are now being ‘actively encouraged’ to return to work, although they will be expected to travel by car or bicycle rather than crowding on to public transport.
However there was no guidance from Boris Johnson on whether people who don’t have a car or live within walking or cycling distance from their work will have to get onto public transport.
There are fears that the rail network, especially the London Underground, will quickly become overcrowded if a reduced level of service continues at the same time as workers begin to go back into the office.
Passengers at Canning Town station in East London this morning as commuters travel on the London Underground network
Will people be stopped from getting on to public transport because of the two-metre social distancing rules – and how will it be monitored?
From today, Boris Johnson has said people who cannot work from home are being actively encouraged to go to work instead of being told to only go if they must. But they should avoid public transport if at all possible.
However, there was nothing in Mr Johnson’s announcement last night about what those who do end up taking public transport will face in terms of upgraded social distancing measures.
These could include strict queuing systems in place outside stations to ensure trains do not become too busy and commuters are able to keep their distance from one another.
There have also been calls for hand sanitiser dispensers at all stations and for all commuters to wear face masks. But it is not clear how any of this will be policed – and what will happen, if anything, to people who flout new rules.
Some transport networks may follow policies put in place by UK supermarkets which have introduced queuing systems and one-way aisles to limit the interaction customers and staff have with one another.
There are also concerns over how social distancing on public transport will be monitored, although the Oyster and contactless card readers at Tube stations will give Transport for London accurate figures on Underground usage.
How the government’s DefCon style five stage alert system for the UK’s coronavirus outbreak could work
Why does the Government believe a quarantine for UK arrivals will be effective now, when they did not bring in such a measure before?
The Prime Minister has said it will ‘soon be the time’ to bring in a period of quarantine in order to stave off Covid-19 infection from abroad – but there are questions over why this has not been done sooner.
Addressing the nation, Mr Johnson said: ‘To prevent reinfection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time, with transmission significantly lower, to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air.
‘And it is because of your efforts to get the R down and the number of infections down here, that this measure will now be effective.’
Mr Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed quarantine measures would not apply between France and the UK ‘at this stage’, according to a joint statement.
But consumer group Which? Travel has warned an imposed quarantine on people flying into the UK will add to the confusion of Britons trying to figure out their future travel plans. The situation has been described as ‘chaotic’.
Mr Johnson did not mention arrivals by sea, and he did not make clear whether it would include passengers on internal UK flights or on flights from the Republic of Ireland.
However, The Times has previously reported that travellers from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man will be exempt from the quarantine.
It has also been reported that the plan is to impose a quarantine of 14 days, and Airlines UK said it had been told by the Government that the plan will be in place by the end of the month or early June.
A Government official said quarantine is ‘a few weeks away from happening yet’, adding: ‘What the scientific advice tells you is that when domestic transmission is high, imported cases represent a small amount of the overall total and make no significant difference to the epidemic.
‘However, this can change when the domestic transmission rate of infection is low and people are arriving from countries with a higher rate of infection.’
How and when will the Government get to the stage when it can ensure that hundreds of thousands of people are being tested every day?
Boris Johnson said last night that Britain was making great progess on testing, saying: ‘If we are to control this virus, then we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts.
‘So that – all told – we are testing literally hundreds of thousands of people every day. We have made fast progress on testing, but there is so much more to do now, and we can.’
But there are questions over how the Government will check the level of testing, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock having missed his 100,000 testing target for every day for the last week.
Although Mr Hancock did meet the target on the deadline of April 30, his officials are suspected of boosting the figures that day by including tens of thousands of unused home tests.
It comes as Ministers admitted they had to send 50,000 coronavirus tests to America for processing following a glitch at one of the large British laboratories.
The samples are understood to have been airlifted to a facility in a southern US state last week after a ‘temporary failure’ in a UK lab.
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