Coronavirus: Calls for clarity after Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 plan fails to impress

Opposition leaders say the prime minister has failed to tackle basic social distancing questions

The UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hit with a wave of criticism after his government’s plans to slowly end the lockdown were described as vague and lacking clarity.

Already senior officials have seemingly contradicted themselves over key issues such as when people can return to work and how many family members from a different household can meet.

In an address to the nation on Sunday night the prime minister set out the steps to slowly ease the UK out of its two-month lockdown.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson’s plan is already “unravelling” and said basic questions over social distancing and protective equipment remained.

"What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those,” Mr Starmer, recently elected as leader of the opposition Labour Party, said.

He said the plans were "a bit all over the place".

With the UK reporting around 32,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 – the second highest worldwide after the US – Mr Johnson’s administration has come under intense criticism for failing to introduce measures to counter the virus fast enough.

He has been rebuked for not having providing enough protective equipment for medical workers. Mr Johnson has also faced pressure from inside his Conservative Party and business leaders to open up the UK’s devastated economy faster than he is doing amid fears it could be permanently damaged.

The government has released a 50-page plan to end the lockdown, which includes urging people to wear a facemask on public transport and aiming for primary school children to receive a month of in-person teaching before the summer holidays.

On Sunday he opened the door for those in manufacturing to get back to work, but there has been confusion as to the day this will begin. Workers have also been asked to avoid public transport if possible, raising questions over how they will get to work.

"For the last two months, the British people have faced a grave threat with common sense, compassion and unflinching resolve," Mr Johnson told parliament on Monday.

"We have together observed the toughest restrictions on our freedoms in memory, changing our way of life on a scale unimaginable only months ago," he added.

Research published on Monday showed that lower skilled, male workers in the UK are at the greatest risk of dying from the virus. Figures realised by the UK’s statistics body suggested that taxi and bus drivers, and those working in retail were more likely to die than office workers.

Germany has fared comparatively better than major European countries such as the UK and France with nearly 170,000 cases but less than 7,500 deaths.

As a result, most shops and playgrounds have reopened, children are gradually returning to classrooms and states are to varying degrees reopening restaurants, gyms and places of worship. Germany’s premier football league is expected to restart later this week too.

But amid the easing of the lockdown, the virus appears to be increasing. Germany’s reproduction rate has moved above one having been 0.65 as recently as Wednesday. Health authorities have warned that for the infection rate to be deemed under control and slowing down the reproduction rate must be below one.

Experts at the Robert Koch Institute for public heath have cautioned against drawing conclusions too soon but say the figures “would need to be watched very closely in the coming days".

Belgium has been the worst affected per capita in Europe but has also begun easing restrictions. It is trialling so-called ‘corona bubbles’ where two households of up to four people can invite each other over.

Some hospitals have also begun treating patients with non-urgent problems and courthouses opened again for limited business. However, the capital Brussels was hit by a transportation strike after bus drivers said they did not feel safe.

Neighbouring France is also slowly opening up this week with some primary schools re-opening in a limited way on Monday.

Some primary schools in Paris are beginning to reopen. EPA
Some primary schools in Paris are beginning to reopen. EPA

Roughly half of Spain is also witnessing an easing of the lockdown this week with outdoor seating in restaurants allowed and small stores reopening. However, these measures do not extend to its two largest cities Madrid and Barcelona.

Italy announced that industrial production had fallen by 30 per cent in March after it brought in harsh measures to counter Covid-19. It was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic and has around 30,000 deaths, second only to the UK.

Updated: May 11, 2020 09:44 PM

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