Saturday 16 May 2020

Coronavirus: concern as restrictions partially eased in England

"Lockdown" changes:

Most European nations are relaxing coronavirus restrictions - e.g. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal.  The exact situation varies from country to country and the success at containing the virus has varied immensely across Europe and beyond - e.g. Australia, New Zealand.

In the UK, the number of deaths from coronavirus continues to be high.  The No 10 Downing Street briefing for Friday 15 May reported total deaths at 33,998 confirmed with a positive test. The figures for Saturday 9 May stood at 31,241 - a rise of 626 in 24 hours.
Whatever the position in other
countries, it is against the background of such sombre figures that the UK government adopted a new "Stay Alert" slogan to replace the earlier "Stay at Home" message and chose to encourage a return to work "if safe to do so." From 13 May, the law was amended to make the coronanvirus restrictions less restrictive. Also, revised guidance was issued.

Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland did not follow suit and have continued with their own regulations - ITV News 10 May and also see The Guardian 17 May - Labour's Sir Keir Starmer calls for four-nation approach.

Prime Minister - Sunday 10 May:

On Sunday 10 May, the Prime Minister broadcast to the nation. Mr Johnson's broadcast envisaged a return to work but he also said - " ... you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must." He went on 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."

The return to work was conditional on it being safe to do so.  Mr Johnson said - "So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home. And to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure."

The Prime Minister also said that, from 13 May, "we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household. 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."

Monday 11 May and onwards:

People began returning to work. The outcome was busy public transport and, unfortunately, many appeared to be paying little or no attention to the on-going risk of increasing infection - see for example ITV News 13 May.

Guidance, which on any sensible view ought to have been available some days prior to a change of approach, was issued after Mr Johnson's address.  Working safely during Coronavirus guidance was issued on Monday 11 May. Official guidance for safer public transport was issued on 12 May.

Amendments to the legislation came into force on Wednesday 13 May - (previous post 12 May). The amended Regulations have not changed the fact that the emergency period continues (Reg 3).  Many businesses remain either closed or subject to restrictions (Regs 4, 5 and Schedule 2), individuals must have a reasonable excuse to leave or be outside of the place where they live (Reg 6), and restrictions continue on "gatherings" of more than 2 people (Reg 7).  An amended and non-exhaustive list of "reasonable excuses" remains in place (Reg 6).  The fixed penalties for breaches of the Regulations were increased (Reg 10).

Work - It is a reasonable excuse to go out "to work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living."

Exercise - it is a reasonable excuse to take exercise - (i) alone, (ii) with one or more members of their household, or (iii) with one member of another household.

Recreation - It is also a reasonable excuse for individuals to "visit a public open space for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote their physical or mental health or emotional wellbeing - (i) alone, (ii) with one or more members of their household, or (iii) with one member of another household.

The amendments provide considerable scope for individuals to be out of their homes whether it is for work, exercise, to be outdoors for reasons of "physical or mental health or emotional wellbeing", or for some other reasonable excuse.

In addition to the legislation there is the guidance.  Staying safe outside your home (issued on 11 May) begins by saying that - "It is your responsibility to adopt these principles wherever possible." It goes on to set out those "principles". Also issued on 11 May was - Staying alert and safe (social distancing).

The guidance appears to be sensible and ought to be followed BUT it is not the law. For instance, "social distancing" by 2 metres or more  appears in guidance but not in the law. The consequence is that the Police are not able to enforce 2 metre distancing. College of Policing guidance revised on 13 May emphasised that - "Officers should only enforce the Health Protection Regulations – government guidance is not enforceable, for example two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces."

Disregard of the law:

Some instances of people disregarding the law relating to "gatherings" have been reported.

18 May - BBC News - Jeremy Corbyn's brother arrested at anti-lockdown protest in London
18 May - Police shutdown '70-person rave with DJ' in Shropshire park during lockdown


Given the high rate of infection and resulting deaths it may be that the change of approach (in England at least) will prove to be premature. This will become clearer around the end of May / early June since coronavirus symptoms take some to time to manifest themselves.

It appears that the intention was to bring about a cautious change of approach to be handled in conformity with the revised regulations and the relevant guidance.  It is disturbing that the return to work has not, in practice, been achieved with the necessary due caution particularly regarding travel on public transport.

It is to be hoped that individuals will behave responsibly. For example, there is no need to visit beauty spots that are a considerable distance from home - BBC News 16 May.  The alternative is to risk a further rise in the infection rate, far more deaths to add to the already grim total, and a more severe "lockdown."

Previous posts and Media:

Further amendments to the "Lockdown" Regulations for England

Covid - Guidance changes - Links to Regulations

Coronavirus Log Part 2 (from 29 April) 

Politics - Ian Dunt 11 May - Unholy shambles: Johnson's covid response falling apart at the edges

16 May 2020

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