The key areas to look at in easing the UK coronavirus lockdown | World news

As the prime minister, Boris Johnson, heads back to Downing Street, he faces calls from Labour to be clearer about how Britain might start lifting the coronavirus lockdown, now entering its fifth week. On Sunday, the foreign secretary and first secretary of state, Dominic Raab, warned the outbreak remained at a “delicate and dangerous” stage and said it was irresponsible to speculate about steps to modify the rules underpinning government’s “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” strategy.

More than 20,000 people have died from Covid-19 in NHS hospitals and thousands more in care homes. But there are growing concerns about the economic impact of lockdown. Gerard Lyons, Johnson’s economics adviser when he was London mayor, warned on Sunday the UK could be the hardest-hit western economy if it does not unlock soon. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, also called on ministers to start talking to teachers, businesses, trade unions and town hall leaders and open “honest conversations with the public about what new arrangements might look like”. Unions insist worker safety must not be compromised by any changes and questions remain about public appetite for risking a new peak of contagion, but plans to modify restrictions are starting to emerge.

Shopping

One-way systems and plastic till barriers are among strategies to be used by retailers to reopen non-food stores. The DIY retailer Homebase tested the waters by reopening 20 of its stores on Saturday while the electronics retailer Dixons Carphone said it will launch “zero-contact” stores. Its Norwegian shops have remained open using contactless ordering and payment, prepaid pickups and increased cleaning and hygiene. This could be replicated in the UK, the firm said.

Clothes shops could reopen, but with changing rooms off limits, according to guidelines published on Sunday by the British Retail Consortium. It has recommended store managers designate different entrances and exits and send shoppers through aisles in a one-way system to limit contact. Shopper numbers should also be restricted, promotional displays pared back to give customers more space and product demonstrations avoided to deter clustering. Tills will be shielded with plastic screens, as seen in some supermarkets, and floor markings in payment queues will keep customers two metres apart.

UK areas in which jobs are most at risk

International travel

Raab confirmed on Sunday that people arriving at ports and airports could be quarantined for 14 days as part of emerging plans to lift Britain out of its lockdown. Officials at the Home Office, which is responsible for border security, and the Department for Transport are reported to have drafted plans for 14-day “stay at home” notices, similar to those currently issued to Singaporean citizens returning from abroad. Such a rule would apply to foreign arrivals as well as UK citizens, with fines for failure to remain at the address given for isolation. Raab told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “whether it is a quarantine period, or testing or other measures that might be taken, it is possible”.

Building

Ibstock, one of Britain’s biggest brick-makers, will restart production on Monday, and ministers appear keen for builders to catch up on time lost during the lockdown. Construction sites have been kept open since the 23 March lockdown, with physical distancing rules in place. Due to sickness and self-isolation, however, many contracts are well behind. Two of the UK’s biggest housebuilders, Persimmon and Vistry (formerly Bovis) are due to reopen sites on Monday, with Persimmon’s chief executive, David Jenkinson, saying the firm has “new site protocols that incorporate the necessary social distancing and protective measures”. Builders could be allowed to work through evenings and weekends, in temporary lifting of noise abatement rules, it was reported at the weekend. Planning conditions currently limit how late builders can work and tend to prohibit Sunday working.


Schools

The headteachers union ASCL has said it does not think schools could reopen until 1 June at the earliest. The home secretary, Priti Patel, said at the weekend the government won’t put a date on it because it would be “irresponsible and get hopes up”. Raab, said it would be “inconceivable” to send children back to school without physical distancing. This all points to schools being one of the later steps in any lockdown lifting. Labour is applying pressure though, with shadow cabinet member Rachel Reeves warning “young people are missing out on vital days and weeks and months of their education”. The Sutton Trust has found that two-thirds of pupils have not taken part in any online learning while at home, with independent school pupils more likely to be keeping up remotely. Social workers are concerned that the most vulnerable children will suffer most as the schools remain closed.

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