Updated: May 16
What did the PM say:
Tonight at 7pm the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has addressed the nation once more, to outline the second phase of our Coronavirus response. Lamenting the ‘tragic’ death toll the Prime Minister sought to assure us that the measures his government implemented averted the worst case scenario which could have claimed same half a million lives.
Speaking in military terms Boris lamented the costs of this ‘campaign’ against the virus. He spoke to the concerns people have of their livelihoods and of their futures. He outlined a much abated roadmap as to how we as a nation will proceed. The PM tells us this roadmap has involved input from all nations of the UK, and all elements of the political spectrum in order to come to a ‘general consensus’.
However, the plan is not unconditional, as the PM once again reiterated his 5 tests which the government had set out previously, must be met before lockdown can be eased. In order to control the R level, which as previously established must remain below 1.0, is now being reported by COVID alert levels, with 5 being critical, and 1 being the complete eradication of the virus.
Addressing the crisis in care homes, the Prime Minister says a ‘world beating’ testing and tracing system will be required, which must test hundreds of thousands of people per day. Importantly, the Prime Minister assures us that the R rate, is at present, below 1.0. Though it could be between 0.5 and 0.9. On this basis the lockdown will not be ‘simply ended’ this week.
Addressing concerns raised by the unions in recent days, the Prime Minister talked about the need to keep essential workplaces safe, such as construction and manufacturing. To this end the government has apparently been working on new guidance for employers to keep workplaces safe. The Prime Minister advised workers to travel by car, walk or cycle if possible; but avoid public transport.
Importantly some restrictions will be eased: unlimited time can now be spent outside (from Wednesday), so long as social distancing is observed. However, the other edge of this sword is that the fines for contravention will be increased.
By June 1st the Prime Minister believes we will be in a position to reintroduce primary pupils back into schools and to begin a phased reopening of shops. Secondary pupils will enjoy ‘sometime of teaching’ before their holidays. By July the PM hopes we can reopen some hospitality venues, so long as social distancing is enforced. Assuring us once more the government is driven by the science, and that the easing of restrictions is conditional, the Prime Minister says now is the time to impose quarantine on those coming into the country ‘by air’. It is because of our R rate, the PM tells us, that now is the time this measure will become effective.
The PM’s address is laden with caution, and he constantly references the conditionality and the precariousness that surround this proposed easing. Though in equal measure he is full of praise for key workers, and in empathy for the elderly suffering in isolation. Rising in confidence and bolder in tone he comes to praise the hard work of our scientists, and of the British public, who have brought us to the end of the first phase. “We will come back from this devilish illness” and in so doing the PM promises us we will be ‘stronger better…more generous and more sharing’ than before.
He ends with the governments new COVID slogan: stay alert, control the virus, save lives.
This address marks not only the transition from the first to the second phase of our COVID response, but also a reset of government comms. After the death toll spiked in the wake of care home casualties being counted there was growing clamour for reassurance. The Prime Minister measured his response, talking both to those who were keen to see reopening, and to those who were worried about reopening. He was cautious not to promise a sudden laxing of restrictions, though offered glimmers of hope, conditional on the continued good practices of the public in the way of social distancing.
The PM promised to give further details to Parliament tomorrow, where he will likely outline the new guidance for employers. Looking at the track record of this governments response it is likely they will be crafted hand in hand with the unions in order to reach a consensus on the way forward.
The PMs performance was strong, and his skills as a communicator are invaluable in the government’s response, as carrying the public is an essential element of this battle. He, and his government will be hoping that this address will serve to keep the public on board for more time still, and I think that is exactly what it will do.