A ‘Significant Return to Normality’ by Christmas, U.K. Prime Minister Says

A ‘Significant Return to Normality’ by Christmas, U.K. Prime Minister Says

A ‘Significant Return to Normality’ by Christmas, U.K. Prime Minister Says

A ‘Significant Return to Normality’ by Christmas, U.K. Prime Minister Says

LONDON — Stadiums and concert venues in England may reopen in the fall, but nightclubs will remain closed. All schools will welcome students by September, but wedding receptions will be limited to 30 people. And while pubs and restaurants reopened in England earlier this month, the local authorities will be granted new powers to close them when coronavirus cases flare.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain laid out a road map on Friday to simultaneously ease lockdown restrictions and to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the coming months, the steps toward reopening came with a clear warning: There will not be a “significant return to normality” until November at the earliest, and “possibly in time for Christmas.”

Britain has suffered more than any other European country from the coronavirus, with more than 45,000 dead and nearly 300,000 infected, although it has succeeded in significantly reducing the number of casualties after they rose sharply in April and into May.

Still, the lockdown has delivered a brutal jolt to businesses large and small, with at least 650,000 jobs lost in the first months of the pandemic, and the country expected to register its largest decline in annual G.D.P. in 300 years.

Now, as the country braces for a second wave of coronavirus infections, Mr. Johnson is walking something of a tightrope as he tries to restart the economy — people will no longer be encouraged to work from home starting next month — while also ensuring that the country’s health service is not overwhelmed.

“I know some will say this plan is too optimistic, that the risks are too great and that we won’t overcome the virus in time,” Mr. Johnson add at a news conference from Downing Street.

Britain should “hope for the best,” he added, but “plan for the worst.” The changes he announced on Friday apply only to England, as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have broad latitude to set their own guidelines in response to the pandemic.

In discussing what will, and what won’t, be possible in the coming weeks and months, Mr. Johnson made clear that until a vaccine was widely available and there are no upticks of new cases, Britons should be prepared to bounce back and forth between eased restrictions and new shutdowns.

“The timetable I am about to set out is conditional,” Mr. Johnson said. “It is contingent on every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly.”

Any changes in the future, however, are likely to be localized, Mr. Johnson said, as England moves from “blanket, national measures,” to “targeted” action. The local authorities will be granted extended powers to cancel events or close public spaces if they face outbreaks, as was the case with Leicester, 100 miles north of London, where a second lockdown was imposed.

On Friday, Mr. Johnson also announced that the government would provide an additional three billion pounds ($3.75 billion) for Britain’s revered National Health Service, which was the subject of widespread adulation even as the government was accused of mishandling the crisis.

“We are making sure we are ready for winter, and planning for the worst,” Mr. Johnson said.

Maybe more than in any other European country, opposition politicians, experts and organizations in Britain have denounced the authorities’ response to the pandemic as riddled with flaws and false promises.

Britain has been one of the worst-hit countries in the world as the pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities, devastated its nursing homes, and exacerbated concerns about the economic prospects of a no-deal Brexit.

A plan to track coronavirus infections has largely failed, and Mr. Johnson’s announcements have left many baffled. When Mr. Johnson’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, flouted lockdown measures, the outcry turned against the prime minister, just months after his Conservative Party won parliamentary elections by a landslide.

Mr. Johnson struck a careful tone on Friday as he announced that the authorities would soon stop encouraging people to work from home. It would be up to companies to craft plans for a gradual return to work.

“Instead of government telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion, and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely,” he said.

Mr. Johnson’s announcements also paved the way for the potential reopening of West End theaters, although operators have long said that hosting an audience while maintaining social distancing would not be viable.

In England, pubs and restaurants were allowed to begin hosting patrons inside again earlier this month, and indoor gyms and pools will be able to reopen next week, at the same time that masks will become compulsory in shops and supermarkets.


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