Coronavirus: The lockdown can’t last forever, but ‘caution’ will be the watchword | Politics News
We are in the seventh week of lockdown and the government is now beginning to draw a roadmap of how we might navigate our way through this crisis now we have passed the peak of the epidemic.
On Monday, officials at the business department held talks with employers, trade unions and industry bodies as they try to pull together a plan to get the country back to work.
Sky News has seen all seven of the guidance documents drawn up by ministers – taking in workplaces from hotels and restaurant staff to factory, shop and office workers – that forms the basis of getting people back to work in the coming weeks.
Employers will be expected to help staff and customers maintain the 2m (6.5ft) distance, and most employees will work from home. In factories and warehouses, equipment should be cleaned frequently and employers should consider staggering shifts.
Shops will have to limit the number of customers through their doors. Hotels will have to keep bars and restaurants closed.
An obvious omission in each document is instructions on the use of face masks and personal protective equipment. On that, it’s “guidance to follow”.
This is all too vague for the unions, who want far more detailed guidelines and have stressed to ministers and officials they cannot sign up to these plans unless they issue binding requirements around worker safety rather than just advice.
As one senior union figure told me: “We need to make sure workers feel safe and we want proper guidance on masks and personal protective equipment. We want clear instructions to employers.
“The government are looking at it from a political point of view of soundbites and moving to a new phase. We are looking at it from a safety and practical point of view.”
The conversations are beginning behind closed doors, but in the coming days it will become a national conversation between the government and the public about how to lift the lockdown and, critically, convince people to return to work and send their children back to school.
“It’s going to take a bit of time,” one union figure told me.
“We’ve got to take people on a journey to get them back to work. They are anxious and they have watched as tens of thousands of people have died. So the concern is real.”
You can see how the government is preparing the ground to move the public on.
One key tool will be a new contact-tracing app – being trialled this week on the Isle of Wight – to make it easier to track the virus and prevent it spreading through the population by alerting users when they have come into contact with someone who has had coronavirus symptoms.
Another will be the use of masks, with the prime minister last week saying that he believed face coverings “will be useful” in terms of slowing the spread and giving people “confidence” to return to the workplace.
Then there is the science and the laser focus on the reproduction rate of the disease.
Mr Johnson announced on his return to Downing Street last Monday that his priority was to keep the reproduction rate of the disease – the R0 – below one to stop the spread.
This metric will form the backbone of the government’s strategy in convincing the public that the risk of being outside their home is diminishing.
Lifting the lockdown will not be a linear path.
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The UK government wants to take a national approach to easing us back into a “new normal” of living with the disease as we await a vaccine or effective treatments, but ministers will have to bend our freedoms and restrictions to the shape of the disease.
Local areas could be put back into lockdown if spikes in the disease pop up. It is all designed to show the public the government has a handle on the epidemic.
The lockdown cannot last like this forever.
Our children need to return to school, our businesses need to start operating again. Britain needs to get back to work.
But the watchword will be caution. Our streets, our trains, our tubes are not going to be as they once were for some time yet.