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UK eases lockdown rules as opposition demands 'clarity'

LONDON

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday the nationwide lockdown would continue, but that small adjustments would be made as “the first careful steps” to reopening the country and the economy.

In a pre-recorded message from Wednesday, Johnson said the government will “encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise” as long as they stay in their household groups and maintain social distancing from others. Fines will be increased for those who break the rules.

“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,” he said.

He also said he hoped to see nurseries and schools open by June, and some shops, restaurants, and cafes by July. He also confirmed those coming into the UK by air would have to be quarantined for two weeks.

He said there was “no immediate end to the lockdown.”

With regards to the economy, Johnson called on those who could work at home to continue to work at home, but those who could not work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, would be “actively encouraged” to go to work.

For these workers, he encouraged them to walk or cycle to work.

“You should avoid public transport if at all possible, because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited,” he added.

“So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can't work from home.”

“If there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes,” Johnson said.

“It would be madness now to throw away that achievement by allowing a second spike,” he added.

Johnson said any further loosening of restrictions “is conditional - it all depends on a series of big ifs.”

The old slogan of “stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives” has been replaced with a new one: “stay alert, control the virus, and save lives.”

In a Twitter post on Sunday, Johnson listed the five ways people could “stay alert”: Stay at home as much as possible, work from home if you can, limit contact with other people, keep your distance if you go out (2 meters apart where possible), and wash your hands regularly.

If a person or anyone in their household has symptoms, they must all self-isolate.

The Department of Health tweeted on Sunday : “As of 9am 10 May, there have been 1,821,280 tests, with 92,837 tests on 09 May. 1,334,770 people have been tested of which 219,183 tested positive.

The death toll in the country rose to 31,855 Sunday evening, as 269 more patients died over the past 24 hours.

- Opposition

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said in response to Johnson’s speech: “This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions.

“The prime minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.

“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”

Critics more broadly said the new message will confuse the public as to whether the lockdown is over or not. The devolved administrations were not given prior notification of the change.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted earlier in the day: “The Sunday papers is the first I've seen of the PM's new slogan. It is of course for him to decide what's most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage.”

“STAY HOME. PROTECT THE NHS. SAVE LIVES.,” she added in a follow-up tweet.

At her daily news briefing, Sturgeon said the rate of transmission is still too high to lift the lockdown and Scots must stay at home.

She did announce some loosening of restrictions however, with people allowed to exercise more than once a day, but warned this was not an excuse to meet in groups and Scots still had to stay “relatively close to their own home.” She also asked Scots to wear face masks in shops.

“Except for the essential reasons outlined, the guidance remains to stay at home in Scotland,” she said. “I think there is a risk of people dying unnecessarily in Scotland if we drop the stay at home message.”

“I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means,” Sturgeon added.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster also rejected the new slogan; Wales was not consulted either.

After originating in China last December, the virus has spread to at least 187 countries and regions. Europe and the US are currently the worst-hit regions.

Nearly 4.08 million cases have been reported worldwide, with the death toll exceeding 281,300 and more than 1.39 million recoveries, according to figures compiled by the US' Johns Hopkins University.

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