The stage has been set for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lay out the government’s plan for leaving lockdown on Sunday evening, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was determined not to step on his toes at this afternoon’s Downing Street briefing. He tried to please everybody by saying not very much at all: the British people’s sacrifice meant changes to lockdown were coming, but they would be “modest, small and incremental”; some measures would be lifted “quicker than others”, but not so quick as to risk a devastating second peak, he said.
He left us none the wiser about what Johnson will say. More freedom for people to move outdoors seems, at the very least, likely. But the figures suggest the government has very little wiggle room. The crucial R value – the number of people someone with coronavirus goes on to infect – is somewhere between 0.5 and 0.9, and has actually risen in recent weeks because of epidemics in care homes and hospitals. Any higher than 1 could cause the virus to spread exponentially. “Incremental” seems like an understatement.
Sunday will undoubtedly be the defining moment of Johnson’s career. He will lay out the broad strokes of the government’s plan, but don’t be surprised if he leaves us with more questions than answers. Questions such as: “Will people who are told to self-isolate through the NHS contact tracing app be entitled to sick pay or compensation?”, which Raab dodged this afternoon. A rough outline for the months ahead will be welcome – but the devil will be in the detail.
You can watch Johnson’s speech at 7pm on Sunday.