PEOPLE living in England have more freedom to leave their homes and to go to work if necessary in the first stage of an easing of the coronavirus lockdown.
The worst-hit country in Europe with more than 40,000 deaths from Covid-19 according to official data, Britain has been in extensive lockdown since March 23.
England tentatively began easing restrictions on Wednesday (13) as stark economic data showed the disastrous impact of the pandemic. People in manufacturing and certain other sectors were being asked to return to work if they could.
GDP data released this morning showed the economy shrank by a record 5.8 per cent in March, and the April data is likely to be even worse.
Boris Johnson had announced on Sunday a gradual easing of the lockdown, loosening restrictions carefully, for fear of triggering a second peak of infections.
The prime minister described the process as a “supremely difficult” balancing act.
“I don’t want to see crowding on mass transit or public transport in our capital or anywhere else,” he told Parliament, adding that officials were urging people not to travel at peak times and for more trains to run on the London tube system.
Residents in England can now drive to the countryside, play tennis or golf, see one friend in a public space or visit a garden centre.
But they must at all times remain two metres away from other people, risking a £100 fine if they break the rules.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged those returning to the workplace to “cycle or walk” if possible.
“We are asking people to be very sensible and not flood back to public transport,” he told Sky News.
“Even with all the trains and buses back to running when they are, there will not be enough space.”
Shapps said there was “no perfect way” of easing the lockdown, and asked people to “use their common sense”.
Employers faced the daunting task of creating safe environments for their staff, with detailed guidance on one-way systems at entry and exit points and in stairwells, spacing out workstations and other minutiae.
For those still working from home or unable to work, there was only a very slight change in the regime. People were now allowed out to exercise more than once a day, and two people from separate households were allowed to meet outdoors as long as they kept two metres apart.
People in England can also move house while home viewings are also allowed for the first time since the country shut down on March 23, with more than 450,000 buyers and renters currently caught in limbo.
Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said officers would still be encouraging people to go home if they were out for reasons other than the authorised exercise, shopping for essentials, health or work.
“Everybody will carry on hopefully working in the spirit we’ve had for the last seven weeks,” he told BBC TV.
“It’s not for the police to police people being two metres apart, that’s about everyone’s individual responsibility. If there are those people who refuse to abide by the new regulations then we will move to enforcement if that’s what we have to do.”
The easing of restrictions comes as the government attempts to revive the economy, which fell two percent in the first quarter, its worst drop in since the 2008 financial crisis.
The situation, meanwhile, is different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with people still being asked to “stay at home”.