The government publishes its COVID-19 recovery strategy

12 May 2020

The government has published its long anticipated COVID-19 recovery strategy, and its ‘plan to rebuild’ the country following the outbreak of coronavirus.

The public has waited with bated breath to hear details of how the country will return to some semblance of normality, and the government has now revealed its formal plan. The strategy is split into three steps, which will be applicable in England. There is a reminder that the guidance should be considered alongside the local public health and safety requirements for the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The steps have proposed dates attached to them, but the timetable is dependent on successfully controlling the spread of the virus. If sufficient progress is not made, then the lifting of various restrictions may have to be delayed.

Step one

These changes will be applicable from Wednesday 13 May.

If workers can work from home rather than their standard workplace, they should continue to do so. This will minimise the amount of physical contact between people and mean that there is less overcrowding on public transport, and in public places. If a worker cannot work from home, they should go to their workplace, if it is open. There are only certain sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open, and this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. New “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines will be published this week for workplaces to follow. Anyone displaying symptoms of coronavirus, or who lives in a household where someone is symptomatic, should not attend work and should self-isolate.

Schools will not be reopened at this stage. Children of key workers and vulnerable children will continue to be able to attend school, and schools can continue to deliver lessons remotely. The government is also amending its guidance to clarify that paid childcare, for example nannies and childminders, can take place subject to being able to meet certain public health principles, because these are roles where working from home is not possible. This should enable more working parents to return to work. 

The government has advised that people travelling to work should avoid public transport, where practicable. People should cycle, walk or drive, if they can, to reduce the number of people they come into close contact with. The government intends to increase funding and provide new statutory guidance to encourage local authorities to widen pavements, create pop-up cycle lanes and close some roads in cities to traffic. Social distancing guidelines should be followed, and transport operators should follow guidance to make their services COVID-19 secure, which will be published later this week.

People moving outside of their immediate household should aim to wear a face-covering in spaces where social distancing is not possible and they are in physical contact with people they don’t ordinarily come into contact with. This would apply on public transport or in shops.

The risk of infection appears to be significantly lower outside when compared to inside, so people will now be able to meet with one person from outside of their household outside, where there is continued compliance with social distancing to them, and anyone else outside their household. Good hand hygiene must be practiced where there are shared surfaces. There will be no cap on how much exercise people can do outdoors, including angling and tennis. Areas such as playgrounds and outdoor leisure venues cannot be used as there is a higher risk of close contact and touching shared surfaces. Exercise can only be taken with one person from outside of an individual’s household, so team sports should not be played, with the exception of members of one household.

People will be able to drive to outdoor open spaces regardless of distance but must observe social distance guidance whilst there.  There is a note to remind people that there may be different rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The government will introduce a series of measures and restrictions at the UK border to manage the risk of transmissions being reintroduced from abroad.                           

Step two

The second step must be made no earlier than 1 June.

Schools should prepare to begin to open for more children from that date. Children should be able to return to early years settings and Reception, Year one and Year six should be back in schools in smaller sizes from this point. Secondary schools and further education colleges will also begin to have face to face contact with Year ten and 12 pupils. The government hopes for all primary school children to return to school for a month before the Summer if possible.

Non-essential retail could be opened, but not in sectors such as hospitality and personal care at this point.

Cultural and sporting events can happen but behind closed doors to be broadcast publicly.

More local public transport services will be resumed.

At this point, the government may allow people to expand their own household group to include one other household group. Some families may be allowed to allow two households to share childcare to support getting people back into work. People may also be able to gather in slightly larger groups, and smaller weddings could be permitted.

Step three

Step three is intended to be implemented by no earlier than 4 July.

The government hopes at this point that any businesses and premises that were previously closed, should be able to reopen. This will include personal care, such as hairdressers, hospitality, such as pubs, public places (including places of worship) and leisure facilities, like cinemas. They will be required to adhere to COVID-19 Secure guidelines.

For higher-risk businesses and public places, where social distancing may prove difficult, the government will phase and pilot re-openings to ensure public safety.

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