Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in Downing Street as he returns to work following his recovery from Covid-19 on April 27, 2020 in London, England.
Chris J Ratcliffe | Getty Images
The U.K. government has taken its first tentative steps to ease some strict coronavirus lockdown measures and slowly begin to reopen its economy.
From Monday, citizens who cannot work from home should be “actively encouraged” to go to work, but avoid using public transport if possible. People will also be allowed to take unlimited amounts of exercise.
In a televised addressed Sunday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that very young children could be back at school by June 1 at the earliest, with older children having some time back at school before the summer break.
He added that “some hospitality places” could be open in July and stated it will “soon be time” to impose quarantine on people coming to the country by air.
Earlier on Sunday, Johnson tweeted confirmation that the government guidance had changed from “stay at home” to “stay alert.” The instructions are now for people to stay at home as much as possible, work from home if you can, limit contact with other people and keep your distance if you do go out (2 meters apart where possible).
The U.K.’s devolved nations have rejected the new slogan, however, deciding instead to keep the “stay at home” message.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that U.K. has the highest official death toll as a result of the coronavirus in Europe. It meant that the country surpassed Italy as the worst-hit country in the region and is now second only to the U.S. for Covid-19-related deaths worldwide. On Sunday, that death toll hit 31,855 with a daily rise of 269 in the past 24 hours.
Experts have warned against international comparisons, citing differences in demographics and because each country has its own way of measuring the number of deaths. The U.K. only recently started adding deaths in the community, such as nursing homes, to its official statistics; previously, it had included only those who died in hospital.
The U.K. government has faced intense criticism from opposition parties, with some lawmakers suggesting Johnson was too slow to respond to the pandemic when it first emerged. The strict measures were first imposed on March 23.
The U.K. leader — who himself has battled the disease and spent days in an intensive care unit — was initially reluctant to impose national lockdown measures at a time when hospitals in Italy were already being overrun. Downing Street has also come under fire for failing to provide enough protective equipment to hospitals and being late to roll out mass testing.
—CNBC’s Ryan Browne and Sam Meredith contributed to this article.