UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that a coronavirus treatment or vaccine may be more than a year away - and in fact may never arrive, according to a 60-page 'Covid-19 recovery strategy' document which details how the UK plans to emerge from lockdown.
"A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine," said Johnson. "So our plan must countenance a situation where we are in this, together, for the long haul, even while doing all we can to avoid that outcome."
Other notable items from the document (via The Independent):
For the first time, the UK government is recommending that the public wear face-coverings in public settings such as mass transportation and some shops.
Schools and non-essential shops will begin reopening starting June 1.
"Social bubbles" where two households can mingle are under consideration.
Easing of restrictions will be contingent upon no resurgence of the virus - which would cause the government to reimpose tight lockdowns, either nationally or locally or both.
"If the data goes the wrong way, if the alert level begins to rise, we will have no hesitation in putting on the brakes and delaying or reintroducing measures locally, regionally, or nationally," said Johnson.
"This document sets out a plan to rebuild the UK for a world with Covid-19," he said. "It is not a quick return to ‘normality’. Nor does it lay out an easy answer. And, inevitably, parts of this plan will adapt as we learn more about the virus. But it is a plan that should give the people of the United Kingdom hope. Hope that we can rebuild; hope that we can save lives; hope that we can safeguard livelihoods."
Labor leader Keir Starmer wasn't convinced, and said during a TV broadcast in response: "The prime minister said he was setting out a road map, but if we’re to complete the journey safely a roadmap needs clear directions. So many of us have questions that need answering. How can we be sure our workplaces are now safe to return to? How can we get to work safely if we need public transport to do so? How can millions of people go back to work while balancing childcare and caring responsibilities? How do our police enforce these rules? And why are some parts of the United Kingdom now on a different path to others?"
And acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “In changing the advice and changing the messaging the government has spread confusion and put at risk what people have fought so hard for. The prime minister is creating more confusion than clarity by badly communicating his government's plans.
"We must put people's health first. The only way route out of the current lockdown is to radically expand our capacity to test, trace and isolate, which the government is still a long way away from achieving." -The Independent
Johnson admitted that lockdown protocols enacted in March "do not provide an enduring solution" due to the heavy price to social and economic life which has brought 'loneliness and fear' to many.
Johnson praised the "indomitable spirit of Britain" while answering MPs' questions on the plan in the House of Commons, but warned that the administration will be weighing the freedom of citizens against the impact of the pandemic.
"Our challenge is to find a way forward that preserves our hard-won gains while easing the burden of lockdown and, I’ll be candid with the House, this is a supremely difficult balance to strike," he said.
"I must ask the country to be patient with a continued disruption to our normal way of life, but to be relentless in pursuing our mission to build the systems we need," Johnson added - noting that the easing of social distancing guidelines will require significant contact tracing to monitor the spread of the disease, as well as the redesign of public spaces to make them "Covid-19 secure."
"The worst possible outcome would be a return to the virus being out of control – with the cost to human life, and – through the inevitable reimposition of severe restrictions – the cost to the economy."
Three key phases of the plan are as follows (via The Independent):
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Step One, to be introduced from Wednesday:
- Workers who cannot do their jobs at home to go to their workplace where it is safe to do so, with sectors like food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research expected to reopen.
- Local authorities to encourage more vulnerable children and children of key workers to attend school.
- Nannies and childminders to be allowed to work where it can be done safely.
- Public advised to wear face-coverings over the nose and mouth in enclosed spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained, such as public transport and some shops.
- Unlimited outdoor exercise or recreation with one person from outside your household, reopening of outdoor sports facilities like tennis courts, golf courses and angling lakes. Permission to drive to outdoor open spaces like parks, woods and beaches within England – all dependent on social-distancing regulations being observed.
- Socialising with one person from outside your household in a park – but not a garden – while maintaining two metres’ distance.
- A 14-day quarantine to be introduced “as soon as possible” for all international travellers arriving in the UK, with a few exemptions including people coming from Ireland.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Step One can go ahead because scientists are “confident” that the rate of transmission – known as R – is below one, meaning that each infected person on average passes the virus on to less than one other person.
“We are confident that these quite small changes will not have a material affect on their own – provided that people stick to the social distancing and the rules that are there – on increasing R beyond where it is at the moment,” said Professor Whitty.
“Set against that, there are very clear health benefits to exercise and there are benefits to making this sustainable. We have got to do this for the long haul. Taking a very small risk to make it more sustainable for people to do has some clear benefits.
“We are not claiming there are no risks to this, but what we think is they are very small and proportionate to the advantage in terms of overall wellbeing, exercise – leading to good health – and sustainability.”
Step Two, to be made no earlier than 1 June:
- Children to return to early years nurseries, as well as reception classes, year one and year six of primary schools. All primary children to return for a month before the summer holiday if possible.
- Face-to-face contact with teachers for secondary pupils in years 10 and 12, who have GCSEs or A-levels next year.
- Non-essential shops to open where it is safe to do so, in phases from the start of June, with guidance due shortly on which kinds of stores will open when.
- Permitting cultural and sporting events behind closed doors for broadcast.
- Reopening more public transport in urban areas.
- Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies to consider whether household groups can be expanded to include one other household, to allow social contacts between broader families or between partners who do not live together.
- Government to consider permitting small weddings.
Step Three, to take place no earlier than 4 July:
- Open at least some of remaining closed businesses, including hairdressers, beauty salons, restaurants, pubs and cinemas, as well as places of worship, where they meet Covid-19 secure guidelines.
- Venues which are designed to be crowded and to allow social interacting, such as nightclubs, may still not be able to reopen safely.
“The Government must also prioritise the situation in care homes. The scarcity of protective equipment and testing means many care workers have been forced to compromise their safety whilst working. The Government is finally recognising the need to test everyone in care homes, but that should have been in place already. Care workers and residents cannot afford to wait another 3 weeks."