The government published its full plan for leaving lockdown today, and it both fleshed out and clarified many of the (sometimes contradictory) statements that Boris Johnson and his ministers have made over the past few days. We know now, for example, that the government wants everyone to wear face coverings in confined spaces, including shops and trains. But as important as what the guidance says is what it omits, and crucial details surrounding the practicalities of the lockdown remain elusive.
For example, employers are still awaiting guidance on making their workplaces safe. These new guidelines, enforced by spot inspections, will arrive later this week. But the government says that workplaces that can be open, including construction sites and manufacturing plants, “should” be open on Wednesday, and employees are being urged to return to work if they can’t work from home. There’s no guarantee the new safety guidance will arrive before that – and even if they do, businesses will be left with precisely zero time to make crucial safety changes.
The same problem applies to extra guidance on transport, also arriving later this week. The government wants people to avoid public transport wherever possible, but some of those people returning to work on Wednesday will inevitably rely on trains, buses or the tube. Those workers will be using networks that have not had the time to implement government guidance. At what cost?
One thing we can expect some clarity on is the government’s furlough scheme. Chancellor Rishi Sunak will discuss the future of the scheme, which pays furloughed staff 80 per cent of their wages, tomorrow, and reports suggest he will extend it from the end of June to the end of September, albeit it at a reduced payment rate of 60 per cent.
You can expect Johnson to address some of these issues, or at least to be asked to address some of them, at today’s Downing Street press conference, which is taking place at a later-than-usual time of 7pm.