Lockdown could be lifted in different areas of UK in stages, No 10 confirms

Restrictions could be reimposed in local areas in response to flare-ups of the disease 

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
,Lizzy Buchan
Friday 15 May 2020 14:00
Coronavirus in numbers

Some elements of the coronavirus lockdown could be eased at different rates in different parts of the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson has said.

Restrictions could be altered in individual towns and villages if there are indications of a local flare-up of the disease.

Recent research has showed the rate of infection in London, which was the worst affected at the start of the outbreak, has now fallen to just 24 cases per day, while the northeast and Yorkshire recorded 4,000 new cases daily.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said that the Recovery Strategy document released by the government on Monday made clear that the authorities would be responsive to emerging data on local infection rates when implementing the exit plan from lockdown.

“It could lead to some of the measures being eased at different rates in different parts of the country and at the same time it could lead to some measures being re-imposed in some parts of the country but not in others,” he said.

“I’m not aware of any plans at the moment to do that with regard to schools.”

The limited relaxation of lockdown restrictions introduced on Wednesday, allowing more outdoor exercise and some social contact, applied to the whole of England, while the devolved nations stuck with the earlier “stay home” message.

Any further changes would also be a matter for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to determine individually.

But Monday’s document made clear that in the second phase – due to start no earlier than 1 June – officials will closely monitor data to identify any differences in the impact of greater freedoms on Covid-19 infections in local areas.

Mr Johnson confirmed earlier this week that one way localised outbreaks may be detected could be by tests on sewage.

The Recovery Strategy states: “Over time, the government will improve the effectiveness of these measures and introduce more reactive or localised measures through widespread, accurate monitoring of the disease. That will enable the lifting of more measures for more people, at a faster pace.”

“Smarter controls” will allow efforts to stop hotspots developing “by detecting infection outbreaks at a more localised level and rapidly intervening with targeted measures”, it said.

Ministers are also considering whether to roll out the NHS coronavirus app regionally or across England as the government attempts to ease lockdown measures, The Independent understands.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, promised earlier this week that the contact tracing app will be widely available by “mid-May” after a trial of the technology began on the Isle of Wight last week.

A Whitehall source said more detail would come within weeks but ministers were considering lessons from the Isle of Wight.

The source said: “If one of the lessons from the Isle of Wight is we can only do this nationally and regionally doesn’t work then we will look at that.

“If there’s a sense we could do it better regionally then we will. It is part of what we are looking at.”

However concerns have been raised over whether ministers are on track to deliver the app, which is a key plank of the government’s new strategy to keep the virus at bay as lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Amid confusion over when the app will be released more widely, the Liberal Democrat digital spokesperson Daisy Cooper warned: “This is not a time for the government to make promises it cannot keep.”

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