Johnson urges public to act sensibly as lockdown in England eases

Boris Johnson on Monday urged the public to act sensibly, as his government unveiled its new public messaging slogan after the lifting of some coronavirus restrictions within England. 

The “stay at home” order has been removed, while organised outdoor sports can now resume and sports facilities, including tennis courts and outdoor swimming pools, can also now reopen. For the first time since December, people will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six or a maximum of two households.

“As vaccines are being rolled out it’s vital that we don’t overdo it and risk all the progress we’ve made,” Johnson said on Twitter. “Please follow the new rules carefully so we can gradually get back to normal again.” 

The government also updated its public messaging campaign to “Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air”, with guidance published across social media, television and radio to highlight the health benefits of socialising outdoors.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase.”

In recent days, ministers have reiterated the need for the public to act responsibly as lockdown measures are eased. Sports and tourism minister Nigel Huddleston on Monday described the latest lifting of restrictions as “cautious, baby steps”, adding: “The message is very clear — it’s about outdoors space.”

While the “vast majority” of the public could be trusted to follow the new rules, the police would challenge rule-breakers where necessary, Huddleston told Sky News.

“I think we can trust in the common sense of the British public to a very great degree . . . But indeed if there are breaches, then the police can intervene and fine and they’ll continue to do so where that’s the case,” he added.

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The lifting of restrictions has been warmly welcomed by leisure sector industries, who have been hard hit during the winter lockdown. 

Mark Sesnan, chief executive of GLL, which runs the Better fitness chain, said the reopening of outdoor facilities was a “really exciting and overdue first step”. 

Of the group’s 250 sites, 80 have reopened some areas outdoors, with demand “very, very strong, particularly for the London outdoor pools,” Sesnan said.

However, he added, the company had burnt through £20m of its reserves in the past year and “desperately needed” to rebuild business as soon as possible.

On April 5, Johnson is expected to announce his final decision on whether or not to progress into step 2 lockdown easing.

Under the second step, within England non-essential retail and personal care facilities such as hairdressers could reopen from April 12 onwards, along with indoor sports facilities such as gyms. Outdoor attractions such as zoos and theme parks will also be permitted to reopen.

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