Boris Johnson unveiled a “conditional plan” to reopen society in UK’s first
steps to ease the coronavirus lockdown
SMEs across the country have temporarily shut down operations amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled plans to modify the nationwide lockdown in the UK’s first steps to bring society and the economy back to life. But what will this mean for small and medium enterprises?
In a pre-recorded message on Sunday afternoon, Mr Johnson unveiled the government will start to take key steps in lifting strict measures in a new five-level “COVID Alert System”. The Prime Minister 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.” The Prime Minister said the easing of lockdown measures are “conditional” and that cases will be monitored to ensure the transmission rate does not continue to rise. Mr Johnson said those who cannot work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, should return to the workplace but must avoid public transport when they can. This would spell good news for SMEs in those sectors, who can now begin to pick up operations this week and get their businesses back on track.
However, Labour has raised concerns about people heading back to work before safety rules are set in stone. In a letter to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband and shadow employment rights minister Andy McDonald said they were “deeply concerned” about people returning back to work without safety guidelines. They said: “Every worker deserves to work without fear. Without clear rules in place for workplaces, this cannot happen. Ordering a return to work in manufacturing and construction with 12 hours’ notice and no official guidance on how workers can keep safe is irresponsible and wrong,” adding: “The Prime Minister said tonight he wanted workers to avoid public transport and use cars, bicycles or walk to work but did not explain how. What if none of those are viable options?”
SMEs in other industries may have to wait more than 6 weeks at least before receiving the green light to reopen their businesses. Shops, schools and nurseries could only begin to partially reopen from June 1, while cafes or restaurants with outdoor space, places of worship and socially distanced cinemas could return to business from July 1, according to Mr Johnson’s statement. However, no further details on this were given.
Mr Johnson stressed that now “is not the time” to end the lockdown altogether and that the government is taking “the first careful steps” to ease certain measures. The Prime Minister said he would only start reopening the economy if the pandemic was under control. “Throughout this period of the next two months, we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity. We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health,” said Johnson. “And I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big Ifs. It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R down.”
However, Mr Johnson was not specific about hospitality venues reopening but it is understood this means only cafés and restaurants with outdoor space and can enforce social distancing “at earliest by July”. Mr Johnson has also shifted away from the “stay home” signal to “stay alert”, which has sparked fury from Scotland, Wales and Ireland who insist this will send mixed signals to the public.
Mr Johnson also announced people returning to the UK from abroad, must quarantine for 14 days, although this might only apply to people who travel by plane. “To prevent reinfection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air.” There will be no quarantine for people returning from France, following a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron.
However, Mr Johnson explained the UK is currently on “level four” of the “five-level” threat system, and that people and businesses must continue to take serious precautions to prevent the further spread of coronavirus. He stressed that these were the first of “slow and gradual changes” but “If there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes,” Mr Johnson said.
The government is taking its very first steps to ease the lockdown and bring Britain up and running again – but in very slow and gradual steps. At least some hospitality industries and public spaces could reopen by July 1 at the earliest. And if everything goes according to plan, SMEs could return after that but the date at which that can happen is still uncertain. The government will reveal a more detailed plan on the easing of lockdown measures Monday.