What are the UK’s different administrations saying about ending lockdown?
Leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have started talking about how the coronavirus lockdown measures could be lifted in the future.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said there is “no prospect” of the UK easing the restrictions to tackle the coronavirus yet.
So are the different administrations giving mixed messages or are they actually singing from the same hymn sheet?
– Are the lockdown measures being lifted?
Not at the moment, but both Welsh and Scottish governments have set out different visions of how the current Covid-19 lockdown measures could be lifted when the outbreak is under control.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster also said that the country may emerge from coronavirus restrictions at a faster pace than other parts of the UK.
– What have they said?
The Scottish Government published a report which said an easing of the lockdown measures will be “conducted in a phased and careful manner”.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford published his government’s framework for lifting the country out of lockdown.
Seven key questions will need to be answered before restrictions in Wales can be eased, the proposal says, while evidence of a decrease in hospital admissions and enough personal protective equipment (PPE) being available for frontline workers would also have to be considered.
Ms Foster said that Northern Ireland could come out of lockdown before other parts of the union but stressed measures will be eased when certain scientific and public health criteria are met and not against set timelines or dates.
– Why have they said it?
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the paper was a “first cut”, designed to start an “adult conversation”.
Ms Sturgeon said she would be “frank” with the people of Scotland about the thinking of the Scottish Government.
Mr Drakeford said publishing his government’s proposals was “part of strengthening a UK-wide approach, certainly not undermining it”.
– What has the UK Government said?
The UK Government has not set out an exit strategy to the current lockdown, despite coming under pressure to do so.
But England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said the UK is going to have to live with some form of disruptive social measures for at least the rest of the year, with some restrictions in place until a vaccine or drug is found.
Mr Hancock told the Radio 4’s Today programme that easing the UK’s lockdown depended on the speed at which the number of new cases of Covid-19 falls and that is as yet “unknown”.
He said that coronavirus cases need to drop substantially before the next phase of isolating infected people and their contacts can be truly effective.
– Is this different from what the other countries are saying?
It is not as different as it initially appears, with all four governments stressing that the lockdown is not going to be lifted immediately.
Ms Sturgeon has echoed Prof Whitty’s comments and said that “a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future”.
Mr Drakeford said he hopes Wales can begin seeing only a controlled lifting of restrictions at the end of the current three-week lockdown.
– So what needs to happen before restrictions are lifted?
Prof Whitty has said any easing of lockdown measures must keep the transmission of coronavirus from one person to the next – known as the R value – to below one.
Ms Sturgeon has also said the reproduction rate of the virus – the number of people each person who contracts Covid-19 passes it on to – must be kept below one.
Through a process of mass testing and by isolating infected people and their contacts, ministers hope that future localised outbreaks of coronavirus can be kept under control.
Mr Hancock said it was not quite the case that mass testing and contact tracing needed to be in place before the current restrictions are eased, but said contact tracing worked better when the number of infections was pushed right down.
– What restrictions could be lifted first?
Ms Sturgeon has discussed a scheme where people could meet a small “bubble” of others outside their household, but also said that the continued need to keep social distancing in place will put an upper limit on class sizes.
She said other countries were beginning to look at slightly expanding the definition of “households” to allow small gatherings of people.
In Belgium, experts are reportedly considering allowing private gatherings of 10 people on weekends – but it would have to be the same people each week.
– What restrictions are likely to be in place the longest?
Prof Whitty has not spelt out exactly the type of measures that would be needed long term but ministers are known to be looking at the need for some element of social distancing to be maintained.
The Scottish Government paper said it is “likely” restrictions on gathering in groups, which have shut down pubs and led to public events such as sports matches, concerts and festivals across the country being cancelled, will need to continue “for some time to come”.