When the Prime Minister addressed the nation yesterday – 10 May 2020, he stressed the government’s outline plans for reopening society were entirely dependent on keeping the virus under control.

After recognising the losses and thanking us for doing our part to protect the NHS and save lives, he went on to tell us that we must continue to be alert, control the virus and save lives.

He moved on to the “shape of a plan to address both fears”. Fear of the disease and fear of the impact on livelihoods and wellbeing of lockdown.

At all points the PM stresses the conditional nature of a sketch or an outline of a plan. Parliament will get more details today, but the plan remains entirely dependent on satisfying and continuing to satisfy the five tests.

As a reminder, they are protecting the NHS, sustained and considerable falls in rates of death and infection, resolving PPE and keeping R – the reproduction rate of the disease below 1. To monitor the crucial R, rate the PM introduced the Covid Alert System. A 1-5 ranking – largely dependent on the R rate – where the lower the level, the fewer social distancing measures needed.

We are currently at level 4.

To get to level 3, we need to reverse the epidemics in care homes and in the NHS and improve our testing and tracing systems.

We are not ending lockdown, instead “we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures”.

  • You should work from home if you can
  • If you can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, you are encouraged to go to work, if your work place is Covid-secure, but avoid using public transport to get there if at all possible
  • Take more and unlimited outdoor exercise
  • Sit in the park, drive to other destinations, play sports but only with members of your own household
  • Obey the rules on social distancing

These were step 1 measures. Step 2 – June 1 at the earliest – considered the possibility of phased reopening of shops and primary schools, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6. Step 3 – July at the earliest – some of the hospitality industry and public places may be reopened.

At the heart of the message was the conditional nature of the measures. If R is not kept down, if social distancing is not observed, the brakes will go back on.

“And if we can’t do it by those dates, and if the alert level won’t allow it, we will simply wait and go on until we have got it right.”

Wayne Thomas, partner at Bates Weston comments:

It is encouraging for businesses to know that the government has a plan, and entirely right that it is dependent on the R rate staying down. The safety of the public and staff is crucial. We look forward to seeing the detail regarding “Covid Secure status” and to working with our clients to help them adapt to the new business models they may have to adopt. We will also need to understand how the government support is to be phased to accommodate a possible phased return to work. We are hopeful that the furloughing scheme in particular will allow partial furloughing and that the scheme will be extended beyond the end of June. Again, we look forward to more clarity on this subject over the coming days and weeks.”