Confusion as coronavirus alert level has NOT been reduced

Boris Johnson is facing questions over his lockdown easing today as it emerged the coronavirus alert level has not been reduced.

The PM unveiled a significant loosening of the rules last night, with groups of six people from different households allowed to mix outdoors and in gardens from Monday, schools reopening and non-essential shops set to follow soon.

But despite the PM saying the government’s five tests have been met and it is safe to start relaxing restrictions, the alert level remains at four. Mr Johnson suggested to MPs on Wednesday that the alert was ‘coming down’ from four to three and he was ‘hoping’ a decision would taken yesterday.

No10 insisted the government’s steps for England were taken on the basis of the five tests, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is in charge of the alert level. However, it is understood no announcement is expected today.

The government charts previously stated that level four required ‘current social distancing measures and restrictions’. 

There was no alert status slide used at the briefing last night. 

Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street last night) is facing questions over his lockdown easing today as it emerged the coronavirus alert level has not been reduced

Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street last night) is facing questions over his lockdown easing today as it emerged the coronavirus alert level has not been reduced

The government charts previously stated that level four required 'current social distancing measures and restrictions'

The government charts previously stated that level four required ‘current social distancing measures and restrictions’

How is the lockdown being eased in England from Monday? 

What’s changing?

From Monday, people can meet outside in groups of up to six as long as those from different households continue to socially distance.  

– Can I visit family and friends?

Yes . This means that family groups of no more than six can meet in parks and private gardens for chats and even barbecues.

– How far am I allowed to travel?

There are no mileage limits set for how far you are allowed to drive to visit family and friends in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the general advice is to remain in your local area as much as possible.

However, people in Wales will still not be allowed to travel more than five miles from their home for any reason except work or to purchase essentials.

Great, can we hug?

Sadly no. You still cannot risk infection by being too close. The same goes for handshakes or kissing.

If young children from different households are part of the group, they must not share paddling pools, climbing frames, slides or anything that would encourage them to be closer than two metres to each other. 

Can I stay overnight?

Staying overnight at someone else’s home will still not be allowed anywhere in the UK, while even going indoors for any other reason than to access a garden or use the bathroom is prohibited.

However Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised that if the distance travelled to meet someone means that you have to use their bathroom, then ‘perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it’.   

Can we barbecue?

Yes, but you must wash your hands, be careful about passing food or plates and keep 6ft apart.

How about entering their house?

Only if there is no other way of getting to the back of the property. 

What about using the toilet?

You can, but you must thoroughly clean any surfaces you touch.

To be extra safe, you could even use a paper towel to open and close bathroom doors and perhaps consider using a kitchen roll to dry hands rather than a towel.

So what if it rains?

You will have to stand under an umbrella or leave. You cannot shelter in someone else’s home.

Can we camp in the garden?

No, Boris Johnson said he did not want you to stay overnight.

Do I only have to see the same group?

No, you can meet different people at different times, but try not to see too many in quick succession.

Can those shielding take part?

No, they must continue to shield if they’re in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and have had a letter from their GP.

What about the over-70s?

If they are not in the shielding group.

We are a family of six – can we meet anyone else?

No. The guidelines say you can meet only up to six people at any one time.

Can we visit a relative in a care home garden?

It would depend on circumstances and the care home’s management.

– What else will I be allowed to do under the new measures?

In England, Monday’s lockdown easing will signal the reopening of schools to allow students in nurseries, early-years settings, and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to class.

Some shops are also set to reopen, with outdoor retail and car showrooms able to resume operations. 

– When might restrictions be eased further?

Boris Johnson has flagged that more restrictions will be eased on June 15, beginning with the reopening of other non-essential retail shops such as fashion or homeware retail.

Other businesses, such as pubs, hairdressers and cinemas will have to wait until July before they can reopen, the Government has previously said.

– And what’s the timeline elsewhere in the UK?

In Scotland, there is no set timeline as for when more measures might be lifted. The government’s lockdown roadmap stipulates that a number of conditions must be met before any further action is taken, including evidence that the country’s Covid-19 transmission is successfully under control.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford is expected to announce on Friday that further plans on lifting restrictions will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Pending the country’s rate of transmission remaining below one, a host of further restrictions are set to be eased in Northern Ireland on June 8, including the reopening of outdoor sports facilities, car showrooms and some non-essential retail stores.

Outdoor weddings with a maximum of 10 people are also set to be allowed and hotels will be able to start taking forward bookings at their own risk.

WHO envoy David Nabarro warned this morning that the virus has ‘not gone away’, and the country must be on ‘constant defence’. Chief Scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said last night that the situation remains ‘fragile’, with 8,000 new infections every day. Scotland and Wales have announced more limited loosenings.

Meanwhile, there is more evidence of coronaphobia among the public, with an Office for National Statistics survey finding barely half would fell safe meeting up with friends or family. 

Mr Johnson stressed that the easing was ‘cautious’ last night as he fronted the daily Downing Street briefing.  

‘This package has been carefully designed so that we can ease the burdens of lockdown while expecting to keep that R below one. I cannot and will not throw away all the gains we have made together, and so the changes we are making are limited and cautious,’ he said.

‘It is thanks to the caution we have shown so far that all five tests are being met. That is not my achievement or the government’s achievement – it is your achievement, only possible thanks to your resolve and dedication to our national purpose to overcome this virus.’

Under the easing in England, different households will be able to see family and friends in groups of six from Monday, although social distancing measures will still have to be followed.  

They will also be permitted to use gardens and private outdoor spaces, which was previously banned. Mr Johnson said that meant barbecues are possible.

Schools will start to reopen from Monday, and non-essential shops will follow from June 15. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice struggled to explain the logic behind the arrangements in a round of interviews today.

He admitted that up to six people from different households being able to meet in parks and gardens will not help families of six but said the Government ‘have to draw a line somewhere’.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Eustice said: ‘We think that six is about a sensible level. We know that the risk of transmission outdoors is actually very low, but obviously if you’ve got lots of people crowded in a garden, if you’ve got two families of six crowded in, obviously that starts to be more difficult to maintain social distancing.’

Pushed again on whether a family of six could meet anyone else, he added: ‘Obviously if they are six on their own than the answer is these rules don’t really help them very much if they want to meet as a full family.

‘But for instance if Claire (questioner) wanted to go with two of the children and take them to see for instance their grandparents if they have grandparents, or uncles, they would be able to do so.

‘So you have to draw a line somewhere otherwise it goes on and on.’ 

WHO special envory on Covid-19 Dr Nabarro told Today, he said: ‘So what was happening through the lockdown was that a very large amount of illness was prevented from becoming totally catastrophic right across the country and the outbreaks that did occur subsided and were contained.

‘And now we have to keep them at the minimum possible level by being on constant defence and at the same time by being very focused on where, if it is necessary, to have further movement restrictions where these are put in place.’

Dr Nabarro added: ‘I don’t think people should feel it is going to go on constantly with everybody being in lockdown, but it will be a different normal from that that we were used to six or seven months ago.

‘We will have to be more respectful when it comes to how we relate to other people, particularly in very confined spaces where we know this virus can easily transmit.’

At the Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said on the covid alert: ‘We’re coming down, the covid alert system, we’re coming down from level four to level three we hope, we’re taking a decision tomorrow.’

No10 sources insisted he had been referring to broader decisions on lockdown rather than a decision on the alert level. 

Mr Johnson said last night: ‘I cannot and I will not throw away all the gains we have made together. So the changes that we have made are limited and cautious.’ 

The premier said there was no question of people being given permission to stay overnight, or spend time in other homes. However, he added: ‘We want people to be able to see their friends and family. We want people to be able to see both parents at once.

‘You could even have a barbecue provided you did it in a socially distanced way.’ 

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty confirmed that people can go to the toilet in other people’s houses if they come to visit, but it was ‘absolutely critical’ that they wiped everything down afterwards and washed their hands rigorously. 

The bigger than expected move came despite concerns having been raised in Cabinet that a ‘barbecue clause’ could lead to a fresh flare-up in infections.

Mr Johnson said: ‘I know the toll that lockdown has taken on families and friends who have been unable to see each other.

‘So from Monday we will allow up to six people to meet outside – provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying two metres apart.

‘At the moment, as you know, people can meet in parks but not in private gardens. This was a cautious first step – but we know that there is no difference in the health risk. So we will now allow people to meet in gardens and other private outdoor spaces.

‘These changes mean friends and family can start to meet their loved ones – perhaps seeing both parents at once, or both grandparents at once. I know that for many this will be a long-awaited and joyful moment.

‘But I must stress that to control the virus, everyone needs to stay alert, act responsibly, strictly observe social distancing rules, and stay two metres apart from those who you do not live with.’

Mr Johnson stressed that ‘minimising contact with others is still the best way to prevent transmission’. 

He added: ‘You should also try to avoid seeing people from too many households in quick succession – so that we can avoid the risk of quick transmission from lots of different families and continue to control the virus.

‘And it remains the case that people should not be inside the homes of their friends and families, unless it is to access the garden.’

Mr Johnson admitted there would be ‘anomalies’ and ‘apparent inconsistencies’ in the more complicated rules. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice struggled to explain the logic behind the arrangements in a round of interviews today

Environment Secretary George Eustice struggled to explain the logic behind the arrangements in a round of interviews today