Nicola Sturgeon tore into Boris Johnson today over his plans to ease the lockdown still further in England, branding him ‘reckless.
Scotland’s First Minister said it was ‘tempting’ to try to rush to get the nation ‘back to normal’ but suggested that the move should not be rushed amid new spikes in cases in some countries.
She made the waning as the UK’s death toll fell to just 15 – the lowest level since mid-March.
Mr Johnson is preparing to announce a dramatic easing of lockdown this week, with a meeting of the Cabinet to rubber-stamp it tomorrow.
The PM is expected to announce an expansion of social ‘bubbles’ where people are allowed to mix freely, as he moves England into a new phase of coronavirus recovery.
The changes will be unveiled tomorrow along with a reduction in the two-metre social distancing rule, which businesses insist is crucial to breathe new life back into the tanking economy.
But there are big questions over how the new system will work, amid claims that just two households might be allowed to form ‘bubbles’. That could leave families forced to make agonising choices between sets of grandparents, friends and relatives.
‘The virus hasn’t gone away, there are already countries – China and Germany for example – that are right now dealing with spikes in cases as a result of significant outbreaks. And health officials in South Korea have said they think the country is now experiencing a second wave,’ Ms Sturgeon told a media briefing this afternoon.
‘I know that when numbers of cases and deaths here are continuing to fall it is very tempting for all of us to think it is all over and we should just now quickly get back to normal.
‘We are trying to get back to normal and we want to do that as quickly as possible, but let me reiterate my strong view that acting recklessly now would be a serious mistake.
‘We must continue to be cautious and all of us must continue to adhere strictly to the public health advice. That will help us continue progress and avoid a resurgence of the virus now.
‘But it will also hopefully put us in a much stronger position ahead of the winter months to come.’
In other major developments today:
- Around four in 10 young people who say coronavirus has affected their wellbeing believe the lockdown has made their mental health worse, according to new analysis from the Office for National Statistics;
- The government could have effectively gone bust if the Bank of England had not stepped in to bail it out at the start of the crisis, governor Andrew Bailey has revealed;
- Ms Sturgeon has suggested the Scottish government is considering stepping in to take a stake in businesses that might otherwise go under due to coronavirus;
- Spain appealed for British tourists to visit, with a minister insisting the country was now a ‘particularly’ safe place and that holidays will not be ‘radically’ affected by temperature checks and health forms;
- Three quarters of Britons want Boris Johnson and senior ministers to take a pay cut in solidarity with millions of workers hammered by the coronavirus lockdown;
Scotland’s First Minister said it was ‘tempting’ to try to rush to get the nation ‘back to normal’ but suggested that the move should not be rushed amid new spikes in cases in some countries
Health Secretary Matt Hancock this evening said the Government was being ‘guided by the science’ in easing the lockdown restrictions
The government released the latest slides tonight showing the status of the battle against coronavirus in the UK
What changes is the PM expected to make tomorrow?
Boris Johnson is widely expected to announce a raft of easements to the lockdown restrictions tomorrow.
They would come into effect from July 4 – in less than a fortnight.
They are believed to include:
- Two-metre rule relaxed
- Expansion of support ‘bubbles’ to allow two households where both have more than one person in them to mingle indoors.
- Pubs, bars and restaurants reopen
- Barbers and hairdressers are able to reopen
Downing Street has warned that Mr Johnson will not hesitate to put the ‘handbrake’ on again if infections start to surge – amid worrying signs that Germany is experiencing another flare-up.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock this evening said the Government was being ‘guided by the science’ in easing the lockdown restrictions.
Dr Jenny Harries said even as the rules were relaxed people still needed to follow social distancing, including regular handwashing and good respiratory hygiene.
‘There is a critical point here that says just because life is feeling a bit more back to normal don’t suddenly jump to where you were this time last year. We need to learn to go forward with restrictions in our lives,’ she told the No 10 briefing.
She said that the consensus among members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was that the R number remained below one.
‘The advice that is given is already coming from a consensus of scientists. They give that advice and the politicians act on that advice. The consensus as of last week was that our R remains between 0.7 and 0.9,’ she said.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is allowing six people to meet indoors from tomorrow, after a slump in the number of cases suggested lockdown can be unwound faster there.
Current guidelines in England allow for groups of up to six to meet in the open air, while staying over two metres apart.
Only those living together, or who have chosen to expand their ‘support bubble’ to include another person who lives alone, can touch or be closer than two metres.
Mr Johnson has been meeting his closest ministers, advisers, and medical and science chiefs to thrash out the new arrangements today. They will then be signed off by Cabinet tomorrow before the premier unveils them in the House of Commons.
Six people are allowed to gather indoors in NI after cases dive
Up to six people can gather indoors in Northern Ireland from tomorrow, under changes agreed at Stormont.
A meeting of the executive approved the step after the virus was suppressed faster than expected.
On Saturday, Northern Ireland’s heath trust labs reported no new confirmed cases of coronavirus for the first time since lockdown.
The daily update from the Department of Health revealed there were no positive results in the 995 tests analysed in their labs through Friday.
There was one coronavirus-linked death announced on Saturday and none yesterday.
First Minister Arlene Foster told the daily briefing: ‘It is recommended that social distancing should still be maintained along with other mitigations such as ventilation and good hand hygiene.
‘This was the one relaxation remaining outstanding from the initial stage of our recovery plan and I know many of you have been desperate in recent weeks to visit your family and friends inside their homes.’
Earlier this month, ministers approved the creation of indoor social bubbles involving one person living on their own and another household, without the need for social distancing restrictions.
While a move to allow six people to gather indoors would allow for multiple people from different households to meet inside, it is set to have some social distancing guidance attached.
According to The Telegraph, two potential options are on the table.
One would involve two household being able to form a bubble, with no limit on the total numbers inside it. That would potentially mean only one set of grandparents.
Another possibility could be to allow households to merge, but impose a ceiling on the number of people. However, that could be regarded as unfair by larger families, who would be more severely constrained in expanding their group.
A senior government source said: ‘There will be an expansion of social bubbles, but the details are still being finalised.’
Another government source told The Telegraph: ‘The question with bubbles has always been how you help families reunite to the maximum possible extent without too much risk.
‘The scientists’ main concern has always been infections spreading from one household to another, which is why this is one of the more difficult decisions we have to take.’
Ministers hope the announcement tomorrow will mark another step towards normalising the country, with pubs and restaurants due to reopen from July 4.
But they are also at pains to stress that the crisis is not over by any means.
Security minister James Brokenshire said a sharp increase in the R virus reproduction rate in Germany showed the dangers.
‘It is concerning to see the situation in Germany and it’s why we are informed in our actions by experience from around the world, why the chief scientific officer, the chief medical officer, speak to their counterparts in different parts of the world to ensure that we are applying the best learning and the best experience in informing our next steps,’ he said.
The Department of Health announced 15 more people had died from coronavirus, taking the total to 42,647.
It is the lowest daily rise in deaths since March 15, but there is often a lag over weekends.
The Government figures do not include all deaths involving Covid-19 across the UK, which are thought to have passed 53,500. Scotland recorded no new deaths.
Dr Zeshan Qureshi, lead author of a report on social distancing for Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was scientific uncertainty around relaxing the two-metre rule.
His team has looked at every study published up to June 17 on Covid-19 and social distancing. ‘This one to two-metre distancing, it’s not based on data that we are getting from coronavirus,’ he said.
‘It is based on historic data, decades and decades old that has been applied to coronavirus in good faith.
UK announces 15 Covid deaths – the lowest level since mid-March
The UK today announced just 15 more Covid-19 deaths in the lowest daily toll since 10 days before lockdown was introduced, as the outbreak that once terrorized the nation continues to fizzle out and the Prime Minister prepares to unveil a major loosening of social distancing rules tomorrow.
Department of Health statistics show 42,647 Britons have now died after testing positive for the coronavirus in all settings, including hospitals and care homes — but the actual number of fatalities has already topped 50,000 when all suspected fatalities are taken into account.
And official statistics show just 958 more cases of the disease were diagnosed, in the lowest 24-hour jump since Boris Johnson imposed the draconian restrictions to halt the outbreak on March 23 (967).
The increase in deaths is the smallest one-day rise since March 13, when just one fatality was announced. Fifteen Covid-19 deaths were also registered across all settings in Britain two days later on March 15.
Scotland has now recorded zero deaths on six occasions in June, including no victims for the last two days. While Northern Ireland has had no deaths on 11 separate days, with three in a row up to today. The East of England also recorded no victims to their count today.
Separate analysis today showed more than 100 NHS trusts in England have now gone 48 hours without recording a single Covid-19 death — the equivalent of almost 80 per cent of all hospitals.
Although the number of deaths is always lower on Sundays and Mondays because of weekend delays to records, experts are convinced the virus is fading in the UK.
‘It is based on very old, outdated models of droplet transmission, which assume that large droplets are the route in which infections are transmitted.’
He said more modern studies had shown those droplets are on a ‘spectrum’ and smaller droplets can project up to eight metres.
He said it was possible the virus could be transmitted much further than two metres between people.
‘We don’t know what a toxic dose of coronavirus is… we don’t know it’s safe to relax what we’re doing already,’ he said.
He added that any relaxation of current measures should be done with very ‘close monitoring’ of the consequences.
There is evidence that ‘more social distancing is better than less social distancing’, he added.
When asked if the two-metre social distancing rule is going to be reduced, Security Minister James Brokenshire told BBC Breakfast: ‘There has been a great deal of work that’s been taking place at pace over the last number of days, informed by the science, informed by experience from around the world as well, as to how we can appropriately look at easements and appropriately also reflect on the two-metre rule as well.’
He added the international experience and understanding of the virus had evolved in recent weeks and the decision would be informed by ‘the best, most up to date science’ and medical experience.
Speaking yesterday Mr Johnson insisted coronavirus is ‘increasingly under control’ as he prepares to unveil a new ‘one metre plus’ rule – with caveats such as the need for facemasks – and give Britons the green light for holidays and haircuts.
He stressed he is ‘sticking like glue’ to the roadmap that from July 4 will permit hairdressers in England to roll up the shutters.
The UK holiday season is also expected to start within a fortnight when Mr Johnson gives permission for hotels and vacation parks to reopen.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing another huge package of tax cuts and spending to revive UK plc after lockdown. VAT is set to be slashed as part of efforts to prop up struggling businesses and stave off mass unemployment.
Chief whip Mark Spencer (left) and No10 aide Dominic Cummings (right) were both in Downing Street today as the new social distancing rules are hammered out
Just 15 coronavirus deaths were announced in the UK today – the lowest figure recorded since the middle of March
Sun-seekers gathered outside the Ship Inn in Folkestone, Kent on Sunday as England prepares for lockdown rules to be eased
People might need to register for pubs
People might need to register before going to the pub and order drinks using an app, Matt Hancock said Sunday.
The Health Secretary confirmed the options are being considered as ways to make it ‘safe’ to reopen the hospitality industry.
Mr Hancock insisted that the government is ‘on plan’ to get more sectors of the economy up and running on July 4. Boris Johnson is expected to announce this week that the two-metre social distancing rule is being halved.
But he made clear that there is little chance of bars and restaurants getting back to business as usual any time soon.
Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge programme whether drinkers will need to register before going to the pub, and order using an app, Mr Hancock said: ‘That is the sort of thing that we are looking at for how do you make it safe to open things… I wouldn’t rule it out.’
The step – previously taken in countries such as New Zealand – would allow for easier tracing of customers if someone who went to the venue is found to have been infected.
Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke told the BBC: ‘I think coming out of the lockdown, sorting out the mess, including the recession after the coronavirus, is going to be even more difficult than going into it in the first place.’
Asked if a short-term cut in VAT was needed, Mr Clarke said: ‘I think that’s arguable.
‘I would accept that. I think that might well be a sensible thing to do.
‘But, again, as with furloughing, with a strict time limit.
‘Because one of the things we are going to have to do is raise some taxation to pay for the much more interventionist things… the Government is going to have to do.’
Labour ex-chancellor Alistair Darling said he would support a VAT cut, stating: ‘Yes, I did that 10 years ago and it was part of a package of measures.’
Speaking in No10 yesterday, Mr Johnson said: ‘The disease is increasingly under control and I just want people to reflect on that important fact.
‘It’s going down, we are getting it down. ‘So, of course, as we make that progress it will be possible to open up more and you will be hearing more about what we want to do with not just non-essential retail but with the hospitality sector from July 4 and we’re sticking absolutely like glue to the road map to the plan that I set out on May 10.
‘But it’s very important we don’t lose our vice-like grip on the disease; we’ve got to keep it on the floor where we’ve got it.
‘On the progress on social distancing, watch this space and you won’t have much more to wait now. You’ll certainly be hearing more this week.’
Large groups gather in Liverpool city centre to drink takeaway alcohol on Sunday afternoon, sitting on the pavements
People were enjoying themselves on the promenade in Folkestone in Kent yesterday while the restrictions are still place
Thirsty Britons queue for takeaway drinks at the Ship Inn in Folksestone on another sunny Sunday afternoon
People were also out drinking in Liverpool City centre on Sunday as the summer weather continued to brighten spirits
Speaking in No10 on Sunday, Boris Johnson said: ‘The disease is increasingly under control and I just want people to reflect on that important fact.’
Bournemouth beach was busy on Sunday ahead of lockdown easing as people took advantage of the warm weather
This next phase of lockdown loosening will also permit hairdressers to roll up the shutters on July 4 – subject to the wearing of face masks – in a boost for thousands of barbers and millions of shaggy-haired Britons in need of a trim. Pictured: Gatsby and Miller salon in Amersham demonstrates how it will operates when clear to reopen
The reproduction rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – is still between 0.7 and 0.9 across the UK, meaning the virus is firmly in retreat. Separate data released for the first time also claimed the UK’s current growth rate – how the number of new daily cases is changing day-by-day – could be as low as minus 4 per cent. If the rate becomes greater than zero, the disease could once again spiral out of control
How could the ‘one metre plus’ rule work?
An announcement of the two-metre social distancing rule is expected to be relaxed this week.
UK Hospitality has suggested that halving the minimum gap could double the capacity of businesses to operate, while a loosening will also be welcomed by aviation and the tourism industry.
But the government has made clear that other precautions will be needed, with inside spaces required to be well ventilated and thoroughly cleaned.
Although few hard details are known, here is how the new arrangements could work in difference settings.
Drinkers would be expected to give their contact details in a register, so that they can be traced if it emerges later that someone infected was in the venue.
Customers could be advised to order using an app, stand as far apart as possible, face away from each other where they can, and prefer outside spaces.
Tables could be closer together than two metres as long as people can face away from each other, and there may be advice for ‘side-sitting’ when people are dining together.
Rules could be slacker for those who dine outside.
Disposable cutlery might be needed in many restaurants, and there will be thorough cleaning in between guests.
Booking is likely to be compulsory in formal settings.
TRAINS AND PLANES
Face coverings have already been made compulsory on public transport, with passengers who break the rules risking fines.
Reducing the minimum distance will increase the potential for trains, Tube and buses to run at higher capacity – allowing more people to go back to work.
Airlines will also benefit from lowering the spacing requirement, which they had warned could make it economically impossible to run flights. Face coverings will again be relied on to help reduce the risk of transmission, along with temperature checks.
There is the possibility that some seating could be reconfigured to limit how many people face each other, and screens could also be deployed.
Perspex screens, face coverings and ‘quarantine’ for goods handled by customers are already being used to reduce the potential for spread.
But cutting the social distancing will benefit smaller shops in particular, and help boost footfall.
More people will be allowed in shops at once. It is also possible that browsing could be time limited to curb the length of exposure – which along with distance is a key component in spreading the virus.
As the rate of infection continues to wane, scientists have rubber-stamped the reopening salons as safe, in a change of tack cheered by the nation’s 30,000 hairdressers.
However, Downing Street is facing a Tory revolt over plans to change Sunday trading rules in order to boost the economic recovery.
Asked whether the proposals had been ditched, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘We have said we will keep measures such as extending Sunday trading hours under review as they can support shops with social distancing and allow shoppers to buy food and other items more conveniently.’
Asked if the suggested plans were now on the ‘back burner’, the No 10 spokesman added: ‘There is a Covid Bill which will look at new ways of working as the country recovers from the disruption caused by coronavirus and which is intended to help businesses through the summer months, in particular.
‘I would expect that Bill to be introduced this week.’
He continued: ‘In terms of what is in the Bill, it is right that that will go to Parliament first but, as I say, at the heart of it will be legislation to enable businesses to adjust to new ways of working and to help them to capitalise on the summer months.
‘It will look to support business to implement safer ways of working to manage the ongoing risks of coronavirus and in particular the need for social distancing.’
The UK’s threat level was downgraded on Friday after scientists confirmed that the epidemic is shrinking by four per cent every day, and the reproduction R rate remained below one. Britain can also now test everyone showing symptoms.
As ministers’ attention turns from wrestling down the virus to rescuing the economy, they are poised to revise the two-metre rule down to ‘one-metre-plus’.
The halving permits will be contingent on other precautions such as meeting outside and with a face covering.
Mr Johnson’s relaxation of the draconian restrictions will provide a lifeline to the beleaguered holiday industry, which will open for business also on July 4 – America’s Independence Day.
But it is understood that while hotels and bed and breakfasts will be allowed to open then, tourist sites with shared facilities, such as campsites, will have to wait longer before being given the green light.
The encouraging signs have fed a growing clamour from the tourism industry for a clear date from which it can start accepting bookings again – and clear guidance about how it will have to operate.
Millions of families are desperately waiting to find out whether they will be able to enjoy a summer holiday after spending three months in lockdown, while holiday bosses say that the limbo has cost them billions of pounds in lost revenue.
Ministers are also negotiating ‘air bridges’ with up ten countries, including France and Spain, to allow Britons to go abroad without being subject to the Government’s controversial 14-day quarantine when they return.
A scheme to test arrivals at airports for the virus is also being piloted, which could also help end blanket restrictions.
Meanwhile, new data showed the reopening of non-essential retailers, including clothes shops and department stores, in England led to a 51 per cent surge in customers heading to the high street.
Between Monday June 15 and Sunday June 21 the number of shoppers was up compared with the week before but remain at historic lows, according to Springboard.
Across all UK retail destinations, footfall was up 45 per cent despite Wales and Scotland keeping non-essential stores closed.
Footfall numbers were up just 8.5 per cent and 11.5 per cent in those countries respectively.
Splitting out the data, it showed high streets and shopping centres in England saw the biggest uptick in shoppers, both up 51 per cent during the week compared with a week earlier but retail parks saw a slower rise, up 32.7 per cent.
But compared with a year ago, footfall in England is still down 47.7 per cent.
In Wales it is down 68.8 per cent and Scotland down 66.5 per cent.
The data also found each day of the week saw an increased number of shoppers as more customers felt safe heading to stores, apart from Thursday when there was heavy rain.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: ‘The opening of non-essential retail in England on Monday June 15 had a substantial impact on footfall across all retail destinations.
‘The overall result for the UK was subdued by Scotland and Wales where retail reopening is yet to happen.
‘We anticipate an additional uplift to come when retail in these areas of the UK also reopens and the hospitality and entertainment industry is given the green light to resume trading in the coming weeks.’
The improvements on England’s high streets were not matched by London’s West End, however, with footfall remaining down 80.8 per cent.