Boris Johnson to announce further easing of coronavirus lockdown measures on Tuesday
Museums, galleries and cinemas will be allowed to reopen from 4 July, alongside pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, Boris Johnson will announce on Tuesday in a decisive but potentially risky easing of lockdown measures in England.
Two days later, millions of people with underlying health issues will be permitted to leave their homes and mix with groups for the first time in three months, it was announced on Monday.
But as Downing Street hailed the “opening up”, doctors, unions and charities voiced concerns over the shift away from lockdown and the planned halving of the 2-metre distancing rule that has been in place since March. The change has been billed by Downing Street as ultimately a political decision based on balancing health concerns and economic wellbeing.
Unions representing shop and hospitality staff complained of a lack of consultation by the government over the reduced distance rule, set to be formally announced by Johnson in the Commons on Tuesday. All the changes apply to England only, and are dependent on continued lower infection rates.
On the gradual pull-back of shielding rules, which start on 6 July and by August will see all 2.2 million people classified as “clinically extremely vulnerable” allowed to return to work, charities and the Royal College of Physicians said those affected would be anxious about their safety.
The much-anticipated cut in the minimum physical distancing measure from 2 metres to 1 metre was set to be formally approved by the government’s Covid-19 strategy committee, chaired by Johnson, on Monday evening. It was then due to be rubber-stamped by cabinet on Tuesday, and presented to the Commons.
The government is also set to confirm 4 July as the date for the reopening of pubs, cafe and restaurants, as well as cinemas, museums and galleries, expected to involve measures such as one-way systems and pre-booked tickets to limit numbers.
Later this week, ministers will publish a bill setting out ways it can help businesses remain viable. This will focus on ideas like making it easier for them to expand into outdoor seating, and ease restrictions on selling food and drink to take away.
But ahead of the change, unions said they still had deep concerns about the downgrading of the 2-metre rule, with one senior official describing it as a “nightmare” for workers and customers.
Usdaw, which represents shop staff, said changing the rule would be confusing and expensive, considering the amount of signage and plastic screens that have been invested in to keep people safe at 2 metres.
Doug Russell, health and safety officer for Usdaw, said: “A lot of hard work has gone into figuring out how you could get the message across for 2 metres and to be honest it’s not perfect but a sudden change of direction through the process would be a nightmare.
“Already one of the key triggers of arguments and fights is over physical separation, if you get a situation where half the population thinks social distancing is over, and the other half are very scared about getting too close, then this could lead to problems.”