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Jamie Stone says he's 'none the wiser' on UK Government's revised coronavirus message

By Scott Maclennan

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out 'a sense of the way ahead'.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out 'a sense of the way ahead'.

North MP Jamie Stone has admitted he is "none the wiser" about the meaning of the UK Government's new "stay alert" message over the coronavirus threat.

Mr Stone was speaking this evening after Boris Johnson announced a significant easing of the lockdown in England, including unlimited exercise and a return to work for those who cannot work from home.

The Prime Minister also revealed a five-stage alert scheme where five is the worst level, with the NHS overwhelmed, and one indicates the absence of the virus in the country. He claims England is currently at level four and ready to move to level three.

The UK Government has faced criticism over its revised slogan for England, advising the public to "stay alert, control the virus, save lives". Scotland, along with Wales and Northern Ireland, is maintaining its "stay at home" message.

Earlier, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that the lockdown north of the border remains in place and the Scottish Government will continue to be “very careful and very cautious about where we proceed to from here”.

Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “I watched Boris’s briefing with close attention.

"When a constituent comes to me and asks what the announcement means, I cannot in all honesty tell them with any confidence. I am none the wiser to what ‘Stay Alert’ is supposed to mean, especially in the context of a devolved United Kingdom. Clarity begins at home.

“There will be a long debate now about what Boris said and what Nicola said. But, rather than get bogged down in political wrangling, I continue to abide by one guiding principle – that everything I do as an MP ensures the protection of my constituents from coronavirus.

“This means continuing to follow the medical advice by not travelling to Westminster; keeping up the pressure on the UK and Scottish governments to support our tourism industry during a season where tourists cannot be welcomed; and fighting for health and care workers to be given all the help they need.”

Mr Johnson also outlined the stages that he hopes will see children return to school in England, with the earliest being June 1, while at the earliest the reopening of some of the hospitality industry could happen in July.

He said: “I want to provide tonight for you the shape of a plan to address to beat the virus and provide the first sketch of a roadmap for reopening society, a sense of the way ahead, and when and how and on what basis we will take the decisions to proceed.

“To chart our progress and to avoid going back to square one we are establishing a new Covid-19 alert system run by a new joint biosecurity centre. That Covid-19 alert level will be determined primarily by the 'R' number and the number of coronavirus cases and in turn that Covid-19 alert level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures.

“The lower the level, the fewer measures. The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be. There will be five alert levels. Level one means the disease is no longer present in the UK and level five is the most critical, the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.

“Over the period of the lockdown we have been in level four and it's thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to level three and as we go everyone will have a role to play in keeping the 'R' number down by staying alert and following the rules.

“We said that you should work from home if you can and only go to work if you must. We now need to stress anyone who can't work from home – for instance those in construction or manufacturing – should be actively encouraged to go to work, and we want it to be safe for you to get to work, so you should avoid public transport if at all possible."

Mr Johnson said the UK Government had been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces "Covid-secure".

He went on: “And when you do go to work, if possible, do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But, just as with workplaces, public transport operators will be following secure standards.

“From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of exercise – you can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports, but only the members of your own house.

"If we as a nation are able to fulfil the steps that I have set out we may be able to go further. In step two, at the earliest by June 1, after half-term, we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools in stages, beginning with reception year one and year six.

"Our ambition is that secondary pupils with exams will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. Shortly we will be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops on transport.

"And step three, at the earliest by July, and subject to all these conditions and further scientific advice, we will hope to reopen at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places provided they are safe and enforce social distancing."

Earlier in the day, Ms Sturgeon slightly relaxed the lockdown advice to allow people to exercise more than once a day.

She appeared at her daily briefing in front of a screen showing the slogan “stay at home” and reiterated that this was not a licence for people from different households to start gathering and meeting up.

After agreeing the move to allow exercise more than once a day with the cabinet and taking part in a Cobra meeting with the Prime Minister and first ministers of the other devolved assemblies, Ms Sturgeon hinted that small changes were anticipated in England later.

Ms Sturgeon said the guidance states:

  • From Monday people will be permitted to exercise more than once a day
  • The new advice does not apply if you or someone in your house has symptoms of the virus or if you are in the shielded group
  • In those cases, the advice is still to stay at home at completely and not go out at all
  • For everybody all other lockdown restrictions remain in place
  • When you are exercising you must stay relatively close to your own home and at all times at least two metres away from people from other households
  • The rules permit exercise such as walking or running or cycling; the rules do not extend to outdoor leisure activities such as sunbathing, picnics or barbecue
  • Being allowed to exercise from tomorrow more than once is definitely not a licence to start meeting up in groups at the park or at the beach

She said: “Having made real progress in recent weeks – and I think you can tell from the figures that I am setting out for you day after day that we have made real progress – the objective now for all of us must be to consolidate and solidify that progress.

“We must not squander that progress by easing up too soon or by sending mixed messages that result in people thinking that it's okay to ease up now.

“Let me be very blunt about the consequences if we were to do that – people will die unnecessarily. And instead of being able to loosen restrictions, hopefully in the near future, we will be faced instead with having to tighten them. We must not take that risk.

“So for that reason my basic message for Scotland remains the same as it has been – please stay at home except for essential purposes.

“I told you last week that we were considering making one immediate change, a change to the guidance relating to exercise, and I can confirm that the Scottish cabinet met earlier this afternoon and agreed a change to that guidance.

“At present it is only permitted to leave home to exercise once every day. From tomorrow that once-a-day limit will be removed. So if you want to go for a walk more often, or to go for a run and also a walk later on in the day, then you can now do so.

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