Ministers urge 'common sense' approach to lockdown rules change

Ministers have defended the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions which came into effect in England today amid signs of confusion and anger over the new rules.

Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 7:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 7:50 pm

Moves to unlock the property market meant that from today people were 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.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Photo: PA

Calling on the Government to release the scientific advice behind the changes to the lockdown, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron said: “Recent announcements about easing lockdown have created more confusion than clarity and today’s is no exception.”

And a poll from YouGov on Tuesday found that only 30 per cent of respondents said the new instructions were clear while 91 per cent agreed the Government’s former “stay home” messaging was clearer.

Meanwhile Police have been told they have no powers to enforce two-metre social distancing in England.

Fresh guidelines issued by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council urges officers to only enforce what is written in law, adding that “Government guidance is not enforceable; for example, two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport, or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces”.

Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA), said the police service had worked “at pace” to understand the changes and translate them into operational guidance for police officers but it is “crucial” the public understands them too.

He added: “We have engaged regularly with the Government and national colleagues on the impact these changes will have on the public and the police.

“Our key message has been a call for clear and consistent messaging.”

In other changes - which have not been adopted by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - people are now allowed to take unlimited outdoor exercise and to sunbathe in parks and public places.

They can also 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.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today defended the Government’s policies to restart the housing market in England.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, he said: “People have asked why would they be able to look around a stranger’s home but not visit their parents or loved ones at home?

“I understand why this may seem confusing at first glance, especially when people have been separated from their loved ones for so long.”

He said there was a “clear plan to ensure the safety of everybody involved in the property” with stringent hygiene guidance.

It comes as a further 494 deaths were recorded today of people who had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total across the UK to 33,186. At least 2,191 of these were in Yorkshire, with an additional 32 recorded today.

The easing of lockdown measures in England appears not to have triggered an immediate surge in travel as some people returned to work and previously restricted leisure activities.

Initial data indicated small increases in road traffic across the country, but concerns were raised about crowding on public transport in London. An official spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there had been no “significant” increase in travel on the capital’s network.

Officials at the Lake District, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks suggested this afternoon it was too early to tell, or they were waiting to speak to rangers to see if visitor numbers had changed as measures eased.

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