On 17 July Boris Johnson had presented to Parliament the next steps for easing lockdown restrictions and battling coronavirus across England.
However, in a last minute press conference held on Friday 31 July, it was revealed that many of the lockdown restrictions that were going to be eased have now been postponed.
This is everything you need to know about the most recent announcements made by the Prime Minister.
Which venues are reopening?
Initially, from 1 August, the likes of casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and remaining close contact services were going to be able to reopen, however this has been postponed for two weeks as the government monitors the situation.
This means that, until 15 August at the earliest, these venues will remain closed. Indoor performances will not be able to resume either.
Wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted, but ceremonies can continue to take place in line with Covid-secure guidelines.
It had also previously been announced that pilots would be carried out in venues with a range of sizes of crowds to evaluate any further relaxation of the rules. These pilots would focus particularly for events where people would be gathering from different places, including sports stadia and business events.
However, these pilots will not be going forward.
High risk activities and settings, such as nightclubs and soft play areas, are not included in any plans for reopening, instead they will be kept under review.
Why the change of plans?
Fears regarding a second wave of the Covid-19 virus have been rising around the world, with Johnson stating that "in parts of Asia and Latin America, the virus is now gathering pace" and that areas in Europe are also "struggling to keep the virus under control".
Johnson said: "As we see these rises around the world, we cannot fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble."
The Prime Minister explained: "Today, the weekly survey by the Office for National Statistics reports that the prevalence of the virus in the community in England is likely to be rising for the first time since May.
"Around 1 in 1,500 now have the virus, compared to 1 in 1,800 on 15 July and 1 in 2,000 on 2 July. The ONS also estimate there are now 4,900 new infections every day, up from around 3,000 per day on 14 July and 2,000 per day at the end of June
"We can’t afford to ignore this evidence."
Are schools reopening?
In September, schools, nurseries and colleges will open for all children and young people on a full time basis.
Schools, nurseries and colleges will “put in place protective measures to minimise the risks to children and teachers and reduce the risk of transmission”.
These measures include:
- Keeping children and young people in consistent class or year groups
- Encouraging older children to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible
- Regular cleaning and handwashing
Schools will also be provided with home testing kits for children and staff who would otherwise not be able to get a test.
The government states, “While our plan is for all pupils to be back at school in September, local outbreaks may require classes, year groups or even whole schools to isolate or be sent home temporarily, so every school will also need to plan for how they will ensure continuity of education in those circumstances.”
The Prime Minister also said that local authorities would also be given more powers to bring in local lockdowns in order to contain future outbreaks.
Draft regulations, which will be published next week, will enable Ministers to:
- Close businesses and venues in whole sectors, or within a defined geographical area
- Impose general restrictions on movement of people - including requirements to stay at home
- Impose restrictions on gatherings by limiting how many people can meet and whether they can travel in and out of an area to do so
- Restrict local or national transport systems by closing them entirely, or introducing capacity limits or geographical restrictions
- Mandate use of face coverings in a wider range of public spaces
“Where necessary, Ministers will use these powers - by laying regulations in Parliament - in a targeted way that responses to the particular circumstances in an area experiencing an outbreak,” the government explained.
These measures will allow for targeted interventions and “avoid a return to a national lockdown”.
Returning to work
From 1 August, employers will be given more discretion on how to ensure employees can work safely.
It was explained that working from home is one way to do this, but also that workplaces can be made safe by following Covid-19 Secure guidelines.
NHS Test and Trace
The Prime Minister said that antigen testing capacity has increased from fewer than 2,000 tests per day in March to almost 200,000 per day.
It is important that anyone who experiences Covid-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, should arrange to get a test immediately. Testing sites have been set up around the country and are providing local access via 200 mobile units.
As well as testing those with symptoms, it’s explained that the government is “proactively testing certain groups without symptoms to identify further cases”.
This includes scaling up testing wherever an outbreak occurs so that individuals with the virus but who have no symptoms can be identified.
Targeted testing regimes for people at greatest risk of the virus are also being run, which includes weekly testing for care home staff, testing asymptomatic NHS staff where there is high prevalence, and working with firms such as major taxi operators whose staff come into contact with large numbers of people that they don’t know.
It was also explained that “over the coming months, we will continue to build the NHS Test and Trace service into a world class operation in infection control”.
The plan is to increase antigen testing capacity to half a million tests per day by the end of October, with results for in-person tests coming back the next day.
The government said, “We will introduce an app, ensuring the highest standards of data privacy and data security, to enable individuals to book a test easily, understand their level of risk and, if trials support it, allow for digital contact tracing.
“It will also enable people to scan the unique QR codes of venues they have visited to help aid contact tracing and understand the spread of the virus.”
Preparing for winter
While there has been success in reducing the spread of the virus, it was stated that the coming winter will “present further challenges”.
The pressure on the NHS and other health organisations is already higher in winter due to seasonal illnesses such as the flu.
As part of winter preparations, the government has provided an additional £3 billion to the NHS. As well as this, the government will be rolling out the biggest flu vaccination programme in UK history.
Return to normality?
The government said that this timeline “represents our ambition to return to normality, however we are ready to apply the handbrake on the plan set out”.
It was acknowledged that parts of the world are experiencing a rise in cases rapidly and the goal is to avoid that in that UK.
“People and businesses should be prepared for the eventuality that we pause our timetable for reopening, or reverse changes in a targeted way to respond to new outbreaks,” the government warned.