England provisionally started easing the coronavirus blockade on Wednesday, with some people unable to do their jobs at home being urged to return to work, as strong economic data showed the disastrous impact of the pandemic.
The hardest hit country in Europe, with more than 40,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to official data, Britain has been under extensive blockade since March 23. if they could.
Data on gross domestic product (GDP) on Wednesday showed that the economy shrank a record 5.8% in March compared to February, and April data is likely to be even worse, as the country has been locked up throughout the month.
"We are seeing one (quarter of the GDP contraction) here with just a few days of the virus impact, so it is now, yes, very likely that the UK economy will face a significant recession this year, and we are in the middle of it as we speak" , said Finance Minister Rishi Sunak.
The government is loosening restrictions only gradually, for fear of triggering a second spike in infections. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the process as an "extremely difficult" balancing act.
England goes alone
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have semi-autonomous governments, are maintaining a "stay home" message for now, leaving England, the UK's most populous nation, to lead the way in sending some people back to work.
In London, trains seemed to be busier than in recent weeks, although still a long way from pre-pandemic overcrowding. Many people wore masks and made remarkable efforts to observe the distance.
In Stratford, a generally busy center in East London, there was a one-way system for getting in and out of the station, with loudspeakers telling passengers where to walk.
Road traffic in the city was constant, although also well below traditional rush hour levels. The digital information panels said, "Stay at home, just essential travel, save lives".
Government accused of giving contradictory messages
Mayor Sadiq Khan posted a message on Twitter to tell Londoners that little has changed.
"The blockade has not been lifted. Please maintain social distance and stay at home as much as possible," he wrote. "If you need to take an essential public transport trip, use non-medical coverage to protect others."
The government faced a series of criticisms that its new orientation – "stay alert, control the virus, save lives" – was confusing and that people received mixed messages about how safe it was to have contact with others.
Appearing on Sky News TV, Transport Minister Grant Shapps was asked why real estate agents were allowed to resume home visits when people could not have relatives to visit.
"The truth is, you need to start somewhere. The blocking message was very straightforward – it was just staying at home. Now that we have started unlocking, of course, decisions need to be made," said Shapps.
"There is no perfect way to do this, and we would ask people to use their common sense … Now, there has to be a cut somewhere."
Questions raised about new guidelines
Workers were being advised to avoid public transport, if possible, and schools remained closed, asking questions about how parents and people who could not work by other means should apply the new guidance.
Employers faced the difficult task of creating safe environments for staff, with detailed guidance on unidirectional systems at entry and exit points and on stairs, spacing workstations and other minutiae.
For those who work from home or are unable to work, there have been few changes. People were now able to exercise more than once a day, and two people from separate families could meet outdoors if they kept two meters away.
Fines for transgressions were increased.
Anyone looking to ease boredom by planning a summer vacation would be at risk, Shapps told the BBC.
"At the moment, you cannot travel abroad. If you are booking, you are clearly, by nature, risking where the direction of this virus is going and therefore where the travel advice is in the future," he said. . .