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Morning briefing: England and other UK nations begin to diverge

Good morning.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has encouraged people who cannot work from home, including those in construction, to commute to their jobs once more, avoiding public transport wherever possible. In a speech yesterday he announced that, from Wednesday, people will be allowed to exercise outdoors an unlimited number of times, sit in parks, and play sports such as golf with household members. (This morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has clarified that the advice on working only applies from Wednesday, too.) 

Primary schools and some non-essential shops could reopen as early as 1 June, and both cafés and restaurants with outdoor space could reopen in July. Downing Street will publish a 50-page document with more detail at 2pm today before Johnson faces MPs in the House of Commons at 3:30pm. The government is expected to announce that people can meet up with one person from another household, providing social distancing measures are followed.

The plan has faced criticism both from trade unions and from other parts of the UK. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland will loosen rules on going outdoors this week, but they are beginning to diverge from England. Johnson’s decision to drop the “Stay at Home” slogan for the less specific “Stay Alert” has not been copied in the devolved administrations, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling the new message “vague and imprecise”. No sunbathing, picnics or barbecues will be allowed in Scotland, she said, in contrast to England.

The Trades Union Congress said Johnson’s plea for a return to work was a “recipe for chaos”. “The government still hasn’t published guidance on how workers will be kept safe. So how can the prime minister – with 12 hours’ notice – tell people they should be going back to sites and factories?” asked general secretary Frances O’Grady.

Meanwhile, scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found evidence that some strains of the virus are mutating, calling it an “early warning” for those hoping to create vaccines. The analysis found that, while most coronavirus genomes around the world are stable, some are not. “Even if these mutations are not important for vaccines, other mutations might be and we need to maintain our surveillance so we are not caught out by deploying a vaccine that only works against some strains,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases.

Global updates:

NZ: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has further eased coronavirus restrictions. Parties, weddings, stag dos and funerals will be allowed, but will be capped at ten people. The country reported three new cases.

France: Clothes shops, bookshops, hair salons and florists will reopen today, and primary schools will restart classes with limited pupil numbers.

South Korea: South Korea reported 35 new cases, with 29 linked to one man visiting clubs and bars in Seoul. More than 1,500 people who possibly encountered the man have been alerted. It marks the biggest daily rise in cases for a month.

China: Authorities tightened measures in the city of Shulan, in Jilin province near the Russian border, after a small outbreak of new cases; 17 new cases were reported nationwide, the highest in nearly two weeks.

Spain: Regions comprising half of the country’s population – and excluding Barcelona and Madrid – will be able to meet with family or friends in groups of up to ten people from today. Outdoor spaces in bars and restaurants can reopen with limited capacity.

US: Some of the country’s top health officials, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are now in quarantine after coming into contact with a White House staffer with coronavirus.

India: India will reopen its train network from tomorrow, even as new infections rise. Yesterday, the country reported more than 67,000 new cases and 2,200 deaths.

Australia: States are lifting lockdown restrictions this week following the publication of a new government plan for the next few months. Victoria is now allowing five people to travel between homes, and for groups of up to ten people to meet outdoors. New South Wales will adopt the same measures on Friday.

Netherlands: Primary schools will partially reopen today. Libraries, physiotherapists, driving schools and hairdressers will also reopen.

Switzerland: Primary and middle schools will reopen with limited class sizes today, while restaurants, bookshops and museums will also reopen with some restrictions.

Bangladesh: The country reported its highest number of daily infections (884) and deaths (14), as its number of cases passed 14,000.

Sri Lanka: Lockdown will be eased today, with government and private businesses reopening with limited staff numbers. The country has reported 863 cases.


Read more on the New Statesman:

British politics and Covid-19 is about to become a big argument about social class

Labour’s policy on renters and Covid-19 is one pledge too long

Exclusive: Video shows key UK official in 2016 anticipating “a pandemic that killed a lot of people”

The clamour to “reopen” the US could cause more damage than it prevents

How public figures are spending the Covid-19 lockdown
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