A raft of pledges has been made by Boris Johnson’s government as it set out how to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
While the slight easing of some lockdown restrictions was announced this week, the government has promised to “redesign” social distancing measures and invest in “experimental technologies” as it continues to try and keep the outbreak under control.
A new strategy document, titled “Our Plan to Rebuild”, was published on Monday and includes 17 promises the government has made to keep the virus manageable and overcome it in the long-term.
Redesign social distancing
A range of “new, smarter measures” reflecting the level of risk the coronavirus presents will be introduced while economic support schemes are to be “carefully” wound down as workers return to their jobs.
Decisions on these policies will be made based on the effect they will have on health, the economy and society.
This will include examining how fair the measures taken are on different groups, how many days of schooling children lose, and how sustainable the government’s finances are.
People will be presented with an enhanced “public health education” in order for them to be able to make “responsible risk judgements, and operate in a way that is safe for themselves and for others”.
Some blue-sky thinking
The strategy document makes it clear the government will have to invest in “experimental technologies” to tackle the outbreak.
“Much of what is desirable is not yet possible,” the document admits, and of the novel technologies the UK will invest in, “some... are likely not to work as intended, or even prove worthless”.
It adds that “waiting for complete certainty is not an option”.
Businesses will be encouraged to find ways to get their staff back to work safely.
Grant applications for how technology that can help will also be welcomed by UK Research and Innovation, the government has said.
Questions have been raised about how the government will handle the data it collects as part of its planned track and trace scheme.
The method, which is seen as a way to continue easing lockdown measures safely and preventing the outbreak getting out of control again, will require relevant information.
An NHS app is being trialled on the Isle of Wight.
“The government will always seek to protect personal privacy and be transparent with people when enacting measures that, barring this once-in-a-century event, would never normally be considered,” the strategy says.
Adjust social distancing in steps
Strict conditions will be attached to every step the government takes as it eases the country out of lockdown.
Changes to social distancing under this step-by-step approach will be based on how the virus is spreading and whether the government is confident they will be safe.
Better shielding for the most vulnerable
People who received a letter telling them to shield themselves from the virus will need to continue, but “more support and assistance” will be made available, the government has said.
Care workers, who will deal with some of those vulnerable people, will be prioritised for testing and protective equipment.
Prisons and care homes have been highlighted as major areas of concern and the strategy document pledges that adjustments will be made in “vulnerable locations”.
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Tighten restrictions if needed
The strategy document makes it clear that as some restrictions are lifted, they could be reimposed and tightened at short notice.
“The aim is to avoid this by moving gradually and by monitoring carefully the effect of each step the government takes,” the document states.
“The scientific advice is clear that there is scope to go backwards; as restrictions are relaxed, if people do not stay alert and diligently apply those still in place, transmissions could increase... and restrictions would need to be re-imposed.”
Develop treatments and a vaccine
The government says it will “do all it can” to bring both treatments for COVID-19 and a vaccine out “at the fastest possible rate”.
It reiterates that social distancing measures are the way the virus can be managed until both are available.
Redesigning towns and cities
More money will be made available to councils, which will be encouraged to widen pavements, create pop-up cycle lanes and close roads to traffic – excluding buses – in cities.
Helping people with disabilities
The government has promised to “ensure people with disabilities can have independent lives and are not marginalised”.
“This will include making sure that they can access public services and will consider their needs as the government creates safe work environments and reopen the transport system.
“The government will ensure their overall health outcomes do not suffer disproportionately.”
Stronger punishment as lockdown eases
Higher fines will be imposed because there is an increased risk that social distancing instructions may not be followed, the strategy document says.
As the lockdown is set to be eased slightly this week, the government will “make clearer to the public what is and is not allowed”.
Tighten the border
New measures will be brought in for arrivals to the UK.
More information about the country’s social distancing measures will be put up at the border and international arrivals will need to supply details about there they are staying and how they can be contacted.
They will be “strongly advised” to download the NHS contact tracing app.
Most arrivals will need to self isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days, with some exemptions, including people coming in from the Common Travel Area.
Open as many businesses and public places as possible
Data and information will be used to inform how businesses and public spaces can reopen.
The government says it will use phased re-openings and pilot schemes to test how places can cope with people in line with the government’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Examples from other countries which have been reopening will also be monitored.
More sources of protective gear
The supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a major concern as NHS staff treat patients with COVID-19.
The government has promised to expand overseas supply, improve domestic manufacturing and enlarge the logistics network used to deliver the kit to those who need it.
Health and social care innovation
The strategy document says the government wants to “seek innovative operating models for the UK’s health and care settings, to strengthen them for the long term and make them safer for patients and staff in a world where COVID-19 continues to be a risk”.
A healthier country
Investments in health will see more infrastructure for cycling and walking and more health screening services, with an aim get people more active and be healthier.
Some underlying medical factors are considered to put COVID-19 patients at higher risk than others, with obesity coming into focus.
Read more: How other countries do social distancing
Testing if you have it or had it
Swab-based tests for coronavirus will be augmented with antibody testing, which will be able to detect if someone was infected with it.
The government has said this will happen once antibody testing is reliable enough.
Help other countries that could struggle with the virus
The UK will “help safeguard the wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable populations”, the strategy states, with the government adding £150m in aid to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, which will help developing countries to repay their debts.
It says it has also doubled its £2.2bn loan to the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, which will help low income countries to respond to the crisis.