Last night, Boris Johnson outlined new government guidance on the lockdown during an address to the nation. But he didn’t specifically address the one question that we all wanted an answer to.
Update: Since Boris Johnson’s speech, the government has published Our Plan To Rebuild, a document that further explains the changes to lockdown. From Wednesday, the social distancing rules will change ever so slightly, but confusion still remains about the specifics of the plans.
At 7.10pm last night, there was a silence in my living room. My housemates and I looked at each other in confusion, unsure of what we’d just been told.
We had spent the past week trying to guess the details of Boris Johnson’s much-anticipated roadmap out of lockdown, and had planned our whole evening around watching his address to the nation. We wanted details about when we might be able to leave the house more than once a day, or when we would be returning to our offices and a semblance of normality.
Above all else, there was one question that we wanted an answer to – one question that we had been asking each other repeatedly across the seven long weeks of lockdown: when can we see our family and friends again?
So we couldn’t quite believe it when the topic of seeing our loved ones was bypassed almost entirely by the prime minister during the outlining of his conditional plan to see us out of lockdown.
During the 10 minutes when Johnson explained the government’s new “stay alert” message, the guidance on social distancing seemed to remain the same. Johnson told us that most of us would soon be allowed to sunbathe in parks, or go outside whenever we wished, but only with people from our own households.
“From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise,” Johnson said. “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.
“You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.”
Essentially, the government was giving us more freedom, but continuing to restrict exactly who we could spend it with. And not once were the words “friend”, “family” or “loved ones” used during Johnson’s speech.
Instead, many of the people we hold closest to us – the people who have provided us with the emotional support to get through the past seven weeks of lockdown – were simply grouped together as “those outside of our household”. As though we all have the luxury of sharing a house with people we are close to. As though there aren’t countless people currently self-isolating alone, or far apart from their loved ones. As though the people who are most vulnerable to coronavirus haven’t been instructed to shield themselves in their homes for 12 long weeks and are still waiting for a clear, concise update on how this new guidance might affect them.
An answer to when we might be able to see our friends and families again was also left out of Johnson’s plan for the next few months.
He outlined step two of our response to coronavirus, stating that some shops and schools might start to reopen by 1 June at the earliest. He outlined step three, stating that parts of the hospitality industry and other public places might start opening by 1 July, “provided they are safe and enforce social distancing”. So what does this mean for seeing our loved ones? Will we be social distancing from them for many more months to come?
Adding further to the general confusion surrounding the government’s new guidance, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab then shared a slightly different message with the nation this morning, telling BBC Breakfast that: “If you’re out in the park and you’re two metres apart… and use some common sense and you socially distance, you can meet up with other people.”
The government has since clarified that this applies to meeting only one other person from outside of our household – so for instance, you could now see your parents outside of both of your homes, but you could only see one of them at a time, and you would have to remain at least two metres apart.
However, Johnson also urged the nation to “avoid public transport if at all possible” last night, so if you are unable to walk or cycle to see your family and friends, as many of us are, the new guidelines probably won’t change a thing.
Of course, social distancing and the UK lockdown have been crucial in our fight against the deadly coronavirus, and safety must be our priority during this time. But the current vagueness of the new guidelines, and the apparent lack of awareness around the emotional pull we are all feeling to be around the people we love right now, has made a difficult situation even harder.
The government is now expected to publish further guidance around lockdown later today. Here’s hoping it clarifies some of the confusion surrounding the current guidelines – and gives us a clearer idea of when we can see our friends, our families, our loved ones again.