Boris Johnson has announced the government is putting the “brake” on easing lockdown restrictions in England that were due to come into effect tomorrow (August 1).
At a surprise press conference today – and following on from last night’s surprise lockdown tightening in northern England – Johnson said it was time to “squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control”.
The announcement means indoor leisure businesses such as bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos, and “close treatments” in beauty salons will not be available for at least two more weeks.
Staff can still go back to the office
Also affected are weddings and Eid celebrations with a pause put on allowing gatherings of up to 30 people, as too pilot sporting events with crowds and indoor concerts and performances.
However, the government’s guidance for employers – in England – to allow staff to return to work at Covid-secure offices from tomorrow (August 1) has not changed
The shielding advice for up to 2.2 million people – who, since March, have been told to stay at home to avoid risking infection – will be eased tomorrow as planned, meaning they can leave home when taking precautions.
‘We are at the outer edge of what we can do’ – Whitty
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said rising infection rates showed England had reached “the outer edge of what we can do” as far as easing lockdown and reopening society and the economy “without getting to the point where the virus starts taking off again”.
Whitty added: “So what that means, potentially, is if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.
“And these will be difficult trade-offs, some of which will be decisions of government and some of which are for all of us, as citizens, to do.
“But we have to be realistic about this; the idea we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.”
The chief medical officer said plans to reopen schools in September will go ahead as this was “an absolute priority for the welfare of children”.
Postponing the further easing of lockdown in England for at least two weeks – just 12 hours before the further lifting of restrictions was scheduled to happen – has caused disappointment and some chaos to individuals and businesses.
“I’m really, really sorry about that, but we just cannot take the risk,” the prime minster said.
Face masks, PM’s ‘bucket and spade jobs’ and Sturgeon’s England travel warning
Johnson also announced that rules on face masks will be extended from August 8, requiring people to wear a face covering in more indoor venues, including museums, galleries and cinemas. The PM said police will play a bigger role in enforcing the face mask requirement.
When asked at the end of the announcement by the Sun’s political editor Harry Cole, “have you just cancelled summer?” the PM replied: “No Harry, I don’t think so and I would encourage people still to think of wonderful staycations here in the UK”.
The prime minister proceeded to extol British destinations as the “best in the world” and added:“All my happiest holiday memories are of vacations here in the UK – bucket and spade jobs or whatever.”
Nicola Sturgeon has issued a statement advising people in Scotland to avoid any non-essential travel to the north-west of England following the tightening of lockdown restrictions in past of Lancashire,West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.