The government has set out its plan for the UK’s Covid-19 recovery strategy, fleshing out the details outlined in the Prime Minister’s weekend broadcast for a switch from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’ to combat the impact of coronavirus and begin the return to work
The 69-page roadmap covers a number of steps, each of which may involve adding new adjustments to the existing restrictions or taking some adjustments further, depending on the infection risk at each point, and the effectiveness of the government’s mitigation measures like contact tracing.
As a start, in England from 13 May all workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories.
The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and nonessential retail which during this first step the government is requiring to remain closed.
As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow new ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidelines, to be published this week. These will ensure the risk of infection is as low as possible, while allowing as many people as possible to resume their livelihoods.
When travelling to work everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. If they can, people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact.
The government is to increase funding and provide new statutory guidance to encourage local authorities to widen pavements, create pop-up cycle lanes, and close some roads in cities to traffic (apart from buses) as some councils are already proposing.
The current aim is for a second step to be made no earlier than 1 June. This will see a phased return to education, with children able to return to early years settings, and for reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller sizes.
Non-essential retail outlets will be able to open in phases when and where it is safe to do so, and subject to those retailers being able to follow the Covid-19 Secure guidelines. The government will issue further guidance shortly on the approach that will be taken to phasing, including which businesses will be covered in each phase and the timeframes involved.
Step three will be initiated no earlier than 4 July and will see the opening of at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons) hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas).
However, some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point.
For these types of higher-risk businesses and public places, the government will pilot re-openings to test their ability to adopt the new Covid-19 Secure guidelines, and will establish a series of taskforces to work closely with stakeholders in these sectors.
The government says it will monitor closely the impact of each adjustment, using the effect on the epidemic to gauge the appropriate next step so initially the gap between steps will need to be several weeks. However, as the national monitoring systems become more precise and larger-scale, enabling a quicker assessment of the changes, this response time may reduce.
The government is to introduce a series of measures and restrictions at the UK border. All international arrivals not on a short list of exemptions will be required to self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. Where international travellers are unable to demonstrate where they would self-isolate, they will be required to do so in accommodation arranged by the government.
They will be required to supply their contact and accommodation information and will also be strongly advised to download and use the NHS contact tracing app.
These international travel measures will not come into force on 13 May but will be introduced as soon as possible. All journeys between the UK and Ireland will be exempt from these measures. Further details, and guidance, will be set out shortly, and the measures and list of exemptions will be kept under regular review.
The roadmap lists the Covid-19 support schemes for business, individuals and the healthcare sector introduced since the start of the pandemic. It points out the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that the direct cost to the government above £100bn in 2020-21, not including support of approximately £330bn (equivalent to 15% of GDP) in the form of guarantees and loans has been made available to business.
It notes that ‘these measures are extraordinarily costly and cannot be sustained for a prolonged period of time’, although it gives no timetable for how the economic support measures will be wound down as people are eased back to work.
The government does, though, state that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will welcome grant applications for proposals to develop new technologies and approaches that help the UK mitigate the impact of this virus, by introducing novel ways of working and new business models.
The government also warns it is considering more stringent enforcement measures for non-compliance, as it has seen in many other countries. The government will impose higher fines to reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules as people are returning to work and school.
While the government has described the roadmap as ‘UK-wide’, the first ministers of the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all indicated they do not support the move to a ‘stay alert’ strategy and will not necessarily be implementing the same changes within the same timeframe.