Boris Johnson hands councils power to order local lockdowns as he floats coronavirus ‘normality’ by Christmas

PM says that departments will discuss possible office returns with civil servants
Boris Johnson coronavirus update 17 July PA

By John Johnston

17 Jul 2020

Local authorities in England will get major new powers to impose shutdowns as part of Boris Johnson's "road map" for controlling future outbreaks.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, Johnson said they would "enable local authorities to act more quickly in response to outbreaks where speed is paramount".

And he used the press conference to unveil a wave of fresh relaxations, saying he hoped the new measures would allow the UK to have a "significant return to normality" by November.

Under the new powers, councils will be allowed to force specific premises to shut, close public outdoor spaces and cancel major events in an effort to tackle flare-ups without imposing wider restrictions.

The PM said fresh legislation would be introduced next week to beef up powers for ministers to introduce stricter measures where further restrictions were needed to contain an outbreak.

He added: "Justified by the evidence, ministers will be able to close whole sectors or types of premises in an area, introduce local stay at home orders, prevent people entering or leaving defined areas, reduce the maximum size of gatherings beyond national rules, or restrict transport systems serving local areas."

Further easing

Johnson said the 1 August easing would also coincide with "more discretion" for employers to ask staff to return to work, provided they can ensure their safety.

Asked what advice he would give specifically to civil servants, Johnson said that PM says that departments will discuss possible office returns with civil servants. “It will depend on the employers and the employees,” he said at the press conference.

Skating rinks, bowling alleys, casinos and beauticians will be given the green light to open from 1 August.

Stadia and conferences will be allowed to open from October, he confirmed, with pilot projects to see how live indoor performances can return safely.

"It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from the November at the earliest – possibly in time for Christmas," he said.

"Now, I know some will say this plan is too optimistic that the risks are too great, and that we will overcome the virus in time… Let me reassure them and reassure you that we will not hesitate, at any stage to put on the brakes."

The prime minister also used the announcement to pledge a £3bn spending boost to get the NHS “battle ready for winter“.

The funding comes after a government-commissioned report this week urged ministers to make “intense preparation” over the next two months to get the NHS ready for a winter spike of Covid-19 cases which could lead to 119,000 hospital deaths.

Downing Street said the cash would allow the NHS to both carry on using private hospital capacity and maintain extra support in the largely-unused new Nightingale hospitals.

John Johnston is a reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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