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How do the UK nations differ over easing lockdown?

Coronavirus | Published:

The four parts of the UK could now move at ‘different speeds’ in adapting their coronavirus restrictions.

Coronavirus – Fri May 8, 2020

The Government has spoken of a “four-nations approach” to tackling the coronavirus crisis, where each UK country would ideally follow the same path and timings back to post-lockdown normality.

But there have been signs of tensions between Downing Street and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with warnings over “mixed messages” to the public amid reports Boris Johnson could allow sunbathing and picnics to be permitted in England from as early as Monday.

This could mean the four nations will find themselves moving at different speeds as they move towards ending the restrictive regime which was imposed on March 23, politicians have said.

Here is a look at what steps each country is taking so far.

– Wales

Lockdown restrictions in Wales were extended for a further three weeks on Friday, although three “small adjustments” are due to take effect on Monday.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said people would now be allowed to exercise more than once per day and garden centres could reopen as long as social distancing rules were in force.

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He also proposed changing regulations to allow local authorities to begin planning how to safely reopen libraries and municipal recycling centres.

– Northern Ireland

Coronavirus – Thu May 7, 2020
First Minister Arlene Foster at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast (Press Eye/PA)

Northern Ireland extended the current restrictions for another three weeks on Thursday.

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But there may be some “nuanced” changes to the measures in the days ahead, First Minister Arlene Foster said, including on rules around open-air exercise.

She added it was important to “move together as a bloc” with the rest of the UK to send a clear and simple message to the population.

– England

The PM has said he will act with “maximum caution” and announce only a “very limited” easing of rules when he sets out his road map for the way forward during an address to the nation on Sunday evening.

Officials will scrutinise the latest data on the virus spread and ministers are expected to convene over the weekend before details are finalised.

Coronavirus – Wed May 6, 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a morning walk on Wednesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned if there was “any indication that things are starting to get out of control” the Government “won’t hesitate to step back” and reimpose certain bans on interactions.

It comes after newspaper reports that pub gardens and cafes with outdoor space could be allowed to reopen, with restrictions on sunbathing and playing outdoor sports also relaxed.

– Scotland

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned on Thursday that she would not be “pressured” by the Westminster Government into “prematurely” easing restrictions in Scotland.

She urged Scots to stick with the current coronavirus restrictions at a press conference on Friday.

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the four nations may need to move at different speeds and said the only proposed change in Scotland would be allowing outdoor exercise more than once a day.

The Scottish Government said its data suggests the R-number – the average number of people an infected person can expect to pass the virus onto – is higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK.

– Republic of Ireland

At the start of the month, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the majority of lockdown measures will stay until May 18, but on Tuesday two measures were eased.

First, a travel limit that had forced people to stay within 2km of home when exercising was extended to 5km, and self-isolating over-70s were told they can leave their homes for a walk or drive.

Mr Varadkar later said when Ireland begins to reopen on May 18, the public would be given advice on wearing face masks or coverings in shops and when using public transport.

He added schools and colleges will reopen in September/October, at the start of the new academic year.

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