Ministers defend ‘common sense’ easing of lockdown rules
Ministers have defended the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England amid signs of confusion and anger over the new rules.
Moves to unlock the property market mean that, from Wednesday, people will be able to invite prospective buyers into their homes but will still be unable to visit family or friends.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the Government is taking a “common sense” approach, gradually easing the restrictions as the outbreak is brought under control.
But with ministers encouraging employees to return to work where possible, he urged people not to “flood back” on to public transport, warning that the system will not be able to cope.
The changes to the guidelines in England mean home-buyers and renters will be able to complete purchases and view properties in person, while visiting estate agents, developer sales offices or show homes will also be allowed.
The Government estimates that more than 450,000 buyers and renters have been unable to progress their plans to move house since lockdown measures were introduced in March.
Mr Shapps said the Government is adopting a cautious approach – and that restrictions will be reimposed if the transmission rate of the disease picks up again.
“We must understand, we have done so well in the last eight weeks we cannot throw that all away, and so these are baby steps,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“If someone visits a home (for sale), that’s likely to be a one-off; if you are starting to visit your family again, that’s likely to be many more times.
“Somewhere there has to be a line drawn where we say ‘This is OK, but this isn’t’, in order to gradually release things. And this is where that line is at the moment.”
In other changes – which have not been adopted by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – people will be allowed to take unlimited outdoor exercise and to sunbathe in parks and public places.
They will also be able to meet one other person from another household in a public space, as long as the two-metre rule is respected, while golf clubs, tennis courts and angling have also been given the green light.
Restrictions on how far people can travel to get to the countryside, national parks and beaches in England have also been lifted – but people have been warned to respect local communities, keep their distance from others and avoid hot spots or busy areas.
Mr Shapps said people should continue to avoid public transport except for essential journeys.
“We are asking people to be very sensible and not flood back to public transport. Even with all the trains and buses back to running when they are, there will not be enough space. One in 10 people will be able to travel without overcrowding,” he told Sky News.
“It is very important that we enable enough space on public transport for key workers, people who have no other option.
“It is very important that people don’t overcrowd that system that will be extremely restricted for the time being.”
The Government has announced an increase in fines for those who break the rules, which will now start at £100 in England, and will double on each further repeat offence up to £3,200.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would “continue to use common sense and discretion” in policing the new rules.
“The efforts of the public mean police officers have rarely had to enforce the government regulations so far. I am confident the vast majority will continue to do their bit and follow guidance in this next stage,” he said.
“We are all now able to spend much more time outdoors and each of us need to take responsibility for doing that within the social restrictions set out by the Government.
“Our approach will continue to use common sense and discretion, and to engage, explain, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce.”