‘Ridiculous’: Britain’s lockdown chaos
The British government's attempt at easing lockdown restrictions has descended into chaos and confusion with police, trade unions, devolved administrations and the public left scratching their heads over the government's plans.
On Sunday evening, UK time, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a national address from Downing Street outlining plans to get the nation moving after nearly two months of lockdown in which people have been urged to "Stay Home, Save Lives."
Mr Johnson, who has recovered from his own battle with the virus that saw him admitted to intensive care, described how the country was entering the most dangerous phase of the pandemic as it looked to release restrictions.
"We have been through the initial peak - but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous," he said. "We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we need."
Mr Johnson said it was "not the time simply to end the lockdown this week" but announced "first careful steps" that included some people returning to work and from Wednesday, being allowed to do "unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise."
He outlined an alert system governed by the reproduction or 'R' number of the virus and said the government aimed to have some school students return by 1 June with hospitality venues open by July. The "Stay Home" message was replaced by "Stay Alert".
But there was no mention of when people might be able to see family members. The issue of when to return to work and how people should get there also sparked confusion, with many crowding onto public transport or clogging up roads on Monday morning - less than 12 hours after the announcement.
Those in England were also told they could "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" but only from Wednesday.
This was later clarified by the government to say people could meet one person from another household in public if they stayed two metres apart - but not two people from the same household - such as their mum and dad at the same time.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab - who deputised for Mr Johnson in his absence - first said people could "meet up with other people" if they were outside and two metres apart, but was later forced to backtrack saying it was only one person at once.
When asked people could meet in a garden or driveway, he said: "We are not moving to a stage where we say that households can mix inside the home."
"So just to be absolutely clear, people cannot mix within the homes … and that advice is not changing."
The message was also complicated by the devolved administrations in different parts of the UK having their own rules.
For example, the Welsh government urged people not to drive from England across the border and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the "stay at home" line would remain in Scotland. Northern Ireland would consider its plan on Monday and was also maintaining the "stay at home" message for now.
On travel, Mr Johnson said he was "serving notice" that it will "soon be the time" to impose quarantine onto air travellers coming into the UK. That was hastily followed by an announcement it would not apply to travellers from France.
A joint statement from Mr Johnson and French President Macron said "No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage."
"Any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner. A working group between the two governments will be set up to ensure this consultation throughout the coming weeks," the leaders said.
Mr Johnson's speech was followed up by a 50-page document published on Monday setting out the plans, which also included recommending people wear face coverings - something the government had previously said there was no evidence for.
Police Federation chairman John Apter said the "loose rules" that are "open to interpretation" are unfair on officers and would be chaotic to enforce.
"Police officers will continue to do their best, but their work must be based on crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation - because that will be grossly unfair on officers whose job is already challenging."
Mr Apter said the statement came at the end of a week of "mixed messages and the release of some information which, fuelled by media speculation, meant many people acted as though the lockdown had already ended".
"If the message of what is expected of the public is not clear, then it will make the job of policing this legislation almost impossible," he said.
While public support for lockdown remains high, there is increasing evidence particularly young people are growing weary of lockdown life and are most likely to flout the rules.
Over the sunny bank holiday weekend police in East London said "sadly we're fighting a losing battle in the parks today."
"Literally hundreds of people sitting having pizza, beers, wines. As always a big thank you to those that are observing the guidelines #StayHomeSaveLives #ProtectOurNHS #lockdownuk"
#OpPIMA and sadly we’re fighting a losing battle in the parks today. Literally hundreds of people sitting having pizza, beers, wines. As always a big thank you to those that are observing the guidelines #StayHomeSaveLives #ProtectOurNHS #lockdownuk pic.twitter.com/U2eFTKTDGJ— Hackney Police (gov.uk/coronavirus) (@MPSHackney) May 9, 2020
In the central city police could be seen turning a blind eye to large groups sitting in Hyde Park and St James' Park while those stuck at home took advantage of the chance to ride around deserted streets.
Opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the rules were "all over the place" and starting to "unravel".
"I was actually quite surprised the Prime Minister said, effectively in 12 hours' time, start going back to work without those bits in place," he said on Monday morning.
"We needed that clarity and it is unravelling a bit this morning because I think the Foreign Secretary has now said, 'Well, go back to work doesn't really mean until Wednesday', so suddenly it has shifted."
Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan also had a confrontation with MP Andrew Bridgen that went viral after the MP failed to give him the correct advice, saying he would be able to visit his two sons at once.
"We have … the second worst death toll in the world … It's an absolute national disgrace when you compare it to almost any other country," Mr Morgan fumed.
On Twitter, he also pointed holes in inconsistencies that force people to see their work colleagues but not their own families.
"I can see thousands of strangers in the park but not my own sons".
"So, the Prime Minister is urging millions of non-essential workers to go out to work - but also telling people we still can't see family or friends even if we maintain the same social distancing rules as non-essential workers at work?
"Makes no sense. I can drive 100s of miles to sunbathe alongside complete strangers on a beach, maintaining 2m distance - but not see my parents? This is ridiculous."
Others echoed his sentiments, while one trade union leader described it as a "recipe for chaos".
"The government still hasn't published guidance on how workers will be kept safe. So how can the prime minister - with 12 hours' notice - tell people they should be going back to sites and factories? It's a recipe for chaos," said Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress.
The government has clarified that people cannot see their parents at the same after Dominic Raab said that they could see both if they stay two metres apart in an interview.@piersmorgan | @susannareid100 | #GMB pic.twitter.com/fahcJLvt1k— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) May 11, 2020
Just so I'm clear I can't see my isolating family, friends or partner of 10 years, but I can sit in a confined office next to that t**t in accounts who lives in a shared house, thinks social distancing doesn't apply to him & drinks beers in the park with his pals? #thanksboris— ScubaMonkey ™ (@IAmScubaMonkey) May 11, 2020
The UK has the second highest death rate in the world from coronavirus with more than 32,000 dead and an unknown number of infections in the community.
The virus is believed to have been circulating in the UK for weeks seeded by travellers from France, Spain, Italy and China before it was detected.
The goverment's early decision to abandon track and trace testing has sparked huge criticism from health experts, while failures over providing PPE and testing to care homes and health workers have been a continual sore point for the government.
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Originally published as 'Ridiculous': Britain's lockdown chaos