UK’s Johnson outlines further relaxing of coronavirus lockdown amid calls to fire his top aide

Health, Fitness & Food

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his political advisor Dominic Cummings (L) leave 10 Downing Street on October 28, 2019 in London, England.

Peter Summers | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined additional measures to relax England’s coronavirus lockdown Thursday, amid mounting pressure to fire his closest aide over an apparent breach of the restrictions.

From June 1, schools will be able to reopen to more children, Johnson said in the government’s latest daily briefing. Secondary schools are set to begin some face-to-face contact time from June 15, he added.

Outdoor markets and car dealerships will be allowed to reopen from June, with more non-essential shops to follow on June 15. The prime minister had initially announced some of these reopening steps over the weekend.

But he also unveiled plans to allow more people to meet with family and friends outdoors. Whereas people in England were previously only permitted to meet with one other person from a separate household distanced six feet apart outside, from Monday six people will now be able to meet up.

Those people will also now be allowed to meet in private backyards in addition to parks, Johnson said, but are not permitted to be inside another person’s home “unless it is to access the garden.”

Johnson has come under mounting pressure to sack his chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, over a 260-mile trip to northern England taken just days after lockdown restrictions were introduced. Cummings has explained he made the journey to Durham, northern England, to be with family for access to childcare in case both he and his wife fell ill with Covid-19.

Durham Constabulary said Thursday that while it didn’t find that Cummings broke the rules by staying with family to self isolate, he may have committed a “minor breach” of the regulations by traveling to Barnard Castle, a popular tourist destination nearby. Cummings said in his explanation of this event that he had driven to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, something that has been disputed by both politicians and the wider public.

The police said that, had they caught him at the time, they would have intervened. But they added there was no apparent breaking of social-distancing rules and that officers “will take no further action in this matter.”

“I’ve said quite a lot on this matter already,” Johnson said in response to a reporter’s question on the outcome of the police investigation. “What I also noticed that the Durham police said was that they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed, and I intend to draw a line under the matter.”

Johnson prevented his two scientific advisors from being able to comment on the matter, and both later personally declined to be drawn into the issue.

The prime minister said that the five tests his government wanted to ensure were being met before starting to lift the lockdown rules were now being met. Those tests were:

  1. That the National Health Service is protected so that it’s able to cope with the pandemic.
  2. Evidence of a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths.
  3. Reliable data showing the rate of infection is decreasing.
  4. There is enough testing and personal protective equipment available.
  5. Any adjustments to current measures do not risk a second peak.

Johnson said that the number of people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus as well as the number of new deaths was continuing to fall. Britain’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 37,837, he said, an increase of 377 fatalities from the previous day.

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