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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 11 August, 2020
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'It's all Greek to us, Boris': UK papers react as Johnson set to detail plans on easing restrictions

The UK Prime Minister began easing the lockdown last night as figures suggest the death toll is now in excess of 36,000.

3e4dfbaa-35fd-4147-8648-a98c8d5b37a5 Source: PA Images

BORIS JOHNSON HAS said he wil provide more detailed plans to gradually ease the coronavirus lockdown when the UK government publishes its official guidance amid widespread calls for clarity.

The Prime Minister will also face MPs today after offering his “first sketch of a road map” for restarting the economy and social lives in England.

He will give a statement to the Commons, with more information expected on a Covid-19 alert system, use of face coverings and the return of professional football.

In a pre-recorded broadcast from Downing Street yesterday evening, the PM said a phased reopening of schools and non-essential shops in England could potentially begin from 1 June if transmission can be reduced.

And he said people who cannot work from home should be “actively encouraged” to return to their jobs from today, and he granted unlimited exercise in England from Wednesday.

Government officials said tennis, water sports, angling and golf would be permitted as long as social distancing was enforced.

And people will also be allowed to sunbathe or chat in English parks with one other person from a different household as long as two-metre distancing is maintained.

Johnson began easing the lockdown he imposed on 23 March as official figures suggested the UK death toll passed 36,800.

He relaxed his “stay home” slogan to instead tell people to “stay alert”, but had not consulted the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and they refused to adopt the new message.

Paper reaction

Johnson’s discussion of this “road map” leads many of the papers in the UK this morning.

The Times leads with Johnson’s speech in which he said rules will be relaxed from Wednesday as part of a three-month plan to open schools and shops.

The Daily Telegraph calls his plan “the long road to freedom”.

However, The Guardian reports Johnson’s speech has left Britain “confused and divided”, as the Government replaced the “stay at home” message with “stay alert”.

Metro reports on accusations Johnson’s speech “plunged the country into confusion and potential chaos”. A similar story leads the Independent, while the i carries the headline “PM sends millions back to work”.

The Daily Mirror says the situation in Britain is “chaos”, reporting that everywhere bar England will stick with harsh curbs on freedom to stem the spread of Covid-19.

But the Daily Mail says Johnson has outlined the “first steps to free Britain”, adding that the PM has kept “the handbrake on”.

The papers in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, focus in on how authorities there are diverting from Boris Johnson’s messaging on the restrictions.

The Belfast Telegraph led today’s front page with “NI sticks with ‘stay at home’ message”.

The Irish News leads with “Five-stage lockdown exit” but reports that there are no dates yet in this strategy, again showing plans in Northern Ireland differ from the British Prime Minister’s. 

Clarity

The PM also faced calls for clarity on the measures from businesses, unions and police following last night’s speech.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the announcement lacked “clarity and consensus”, while “effectively telling millions of people to go back to work tomorrow” without clear guidelines.

He said: “This statement raises as many questions as it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland and Wales pulling in different directions.”

Primary pupils could go back to school in steps staggered by year groups “at the earliest by 1 June”, with secondary pupils with exams next year to get some teaching time before the holidays.

The National Education Union, representing teachers, said the idea of reopening schools with the rate of infection as it is was “nothing short of reckless”.

Johnson said he was hampered because the rate of transmission, or R, remained too high between 0.5 and 0.9 “but potentially just below one”, above which a rapid resurgence could follow.

But in the third step, “at the earliest by July”, he said ministers hope to reopen some of the hospitality industry, if the evidence supports the move and distancing can be enforced.

Business leaders and unions were calling for details on what protective equipment staff needed, distancing measures that needed to be in place and on Government support schemes.

However, Johnson acknowledged he was giving just “the shape of a plan” in his address, and the UK government is to publish a 50-page document in Parliament tday to fill in the gaps.

The PM also said he would take questions from the public in some form.

Further details are expected on plans to impose a 14-day quarantine on people flying into the UK and on a five-tier alert system to inform relaxation and strengthening of measures.

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