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UK warned not to expect 'business as usual' at end of lockdown

Jonathan Brady/PA

UK warned not to expect 'business as usual' at end of lockdown

The UK should not expect a return to “business as usual” when Boris Johnson unveils his plans for the next phase of the country’s coronavirus lockdown, a senior Cabinet minister has said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said life would not go “back to where we were in February” as the UK Government prepares its latest three-weekly review of the strict curbs on peoples’ movement.

And he revealed his department was considering bringing in “hand sanitiser, one-way systems, [and] spacing on platforms” in a bid to prevent the spread of the disease on public transport.

Foreign nationals could also be told to download an NHS tracking app before entering the country.

It was reported on Sunday that ministers are preparing to soften bans on outdoor activities including picnics in the first stage of easing lockdown rules - but only if coronavirus infection rates continue to fall.

The move will mean people can exercise several times a day rather than the current once-a-day limit, while the public will be permitted to drive to the countryside for walks and picnics.

Meanwhile The Sunday Times reported building sites will be permitted to reopen, while businesses will be given three weeks to ready their workplaces to allow social distancing guidelines to be followed ahead of a more wide-ranging easing of lockdown measures if appropriate at the end of May.

But Shapps cautioned against expecting a dramatic loosening of the restrictions when the Prime Minister sets out his thinking at the end of this week.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “We’ll have to wait to see what he says.

"But I don’t think we should expect us to go from this situation we have at the moment with social distancing to back to where we were in February. 

“That’s clearly not going to happen and I don’t think anyone imagines that for one moment.”

He added: “The absolute focus of what the Prime Minister will be announcing later in the week is that what we do do going forward doesn’t undo the brilliant work people have been doing to get that… R number below one [and ensure] the all-critical reproduction rate doesn’t come back up, because that’s when we’d see a second wave.

“And, no, it’s definitely not going to be business as usual. But we do want to make sure people understand where the routemap lies.”

Shapps refused to be drawn on reports that ministers are eyeing a June reopening of primary schools, saying getting education institutions back up-and-running was just “one of the considerations” in the Government’s in-tray.

“It’s no secret that of course we want kids to be able to go back to school,” he said.

“But I’d be over-egging it to say there’s a date in place, a plan in place. We will have to wait until later in this week to hear more detail from the Prime Minister on all of these fronts."

He did reveal, however, that ministers are considering a wave of measures to protect commuters once they are encouraged to use public transport, including asking businesses to bring in staggered start times to avoid morning “crushes” and moves to enforce “basic hygiene” on train and bus services.

“We can help with that by trying to have hand sanitiser, one-way systems, spacing on platforms and at bus stops and that sort of thing clearly marked out,” he said. 

“So there are a lot of different measures that can be taken, of which easing into this is clearly going to be one of the most important things of all.”

Shapps also confirmed the Government was “actively working” on measures to tighten entry requirements to the UK - including asking all those coming into the country from outside to download a forthcoming NHS app aimed at mapping the spread of the virus.

“I think it would be wrong… if we’re all still being asked to socially distance for people coming in not to do the same thing,” he said.

The Transport Secretary added: “We could be, for example, asking everybody who comes here to require to have that app and [apply] the same rules to anyone visiting, which is, as you know to stay locked-down effectively.

“Those same social distancing rules clearly would need to apply to everybody under those circumstances.”

Shapps’ comments on the Government’s thinking came as a new poll revealed that fewer than one in five people in Britain believe the time is right to reopen schools, pubs and restaurants.

The fresh Opinium study for The Observer finds just 17 per cent of people believe the conditions have been met for schools to reopen, while 67 per cent say they have not been and should stay closed.

Opposition to reopening restaurants is higher still, with just 11 per cent of people saying the time is now right for them to return, with 78 per cent opposed, while only 9 per cent believe pubs should make a comeback, with 81 per cent against. 

The poll also finds continued opposition to mass gatherings, including sporting events and concerts, getting going again - with just 7 per cent of those quizzed by the pollster saying that would be the right move.

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