Downing Street has drafted in the CCHQ campaign chief responsible for the Conservative Party’s “Get Brexit Done” slogan to bolster its coronavirus communications, as the government says it will enforce tighter restrictions on people’s movements to curb the virus.
Isaac Levido, who headed up the Conservative Party’s general election campaign at the end of last year, has been brought into No.10 in after heavy criticism of the comms strategy for convincing people to comply with Covid-19 measures.
Levido and Vote Leave comms director Paul Stephenson are in line to step in for Boris Johnson’s top political adviser, Dominic Cummings, and No.10 communications director Lee Cain if either are incapacitated by the virus, sccording to reports from the Politico website.
The news follows criticism by politicians and commentators who have said the government has failed to communicate a clear, unified message to citizens about how they should respond to the crisis. Critics have said the government’s messaging has become “muddled” and that a lack of explicit directions of how to comply with social distancing measures had allowed people to look for “loopholes” in the guidance.
It came the day after the prime minister announced the government had ratcheted up its measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, after days of reports that people were still failing to comply with instructions to stay at home where possible.
“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home,” he said in a televised address.
“Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.
That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes.”
People will be allowed outside to shop for “basic necessities, as infrequently as possible”; to take one form of exercise – running, walking or cycling – a day, alone, or with members of their household; to fulfil medical needs like picking up prescriptions, to provide care or help a vulnerable person; and to travel to and work, “but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home”.
All shops that sell non-essential goods and services, including clothes and electronics, as well as other places where people gather such as libraries and playgrounds, have been ordered to close. Those that can remain open include food shops, off licenses, bike shops and garages, and home and hardware shops.
Police will be asked to enforce the new measures, which will be reviewed in three weeks’ time, by issuing fines or dispersing gatherings, Johnson said.
Gatherings of three or more people have also been banned, unless people live together, and all social events have been cancelled, with the exception of funerals. And people will be expected to practise social distancing – staying at least two metres away from others – while out in public.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said work to deliver essential services such as fixing plumbing emergencies in people’s homes could continue as long as people observed the social distancing protocols.
“It should be the case that if you are visiting in order to ensure that basic and essential services are there for those who need them and you maintain social distancing, that should be appropriate,” he said.
Asked whether it was right that construction will be allowed continue – including on some government projects – Gove said: “It’s important to recognise that we need to work with the sectors and with the businesses concerned, in order to ensure that the work that needs to be done in order to maintain and to enhance our infrastructure can be done in order to ensure that the life of the nation can continue and that we maintain the economic health of the nation without compromising the public health.”
Announcements of further financial support for individuals and businesses hit by the crisis are expected in the coming days. The government is facing mounting pressure to announce support for self-employed people and freelancers, and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is expected to announce a package in the coming days.
Gove said: “We will be saying more in due course about additional support for every sector of the economy. The chancellor will be saying more later.”
The Cabinet Office published full guidance online yesterday evening after Johnson’s speech telling people to stay at home, alongside the list of exceptions and a detailed list of businesses that can and cannot remain open.
The government has been sending out text messages to citizens this morning with links to the guidance.
A government spokesperson said: "The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest health emergency in a generation. That is why the government is using public health campaigns, daily media briefings, Facebook and Instagram adverts, business support and clear guidance on GOV.UK to provide the public with the information it needs to fulfil its crucial role in delaying the spread of coronavirus.”
Government public information campaigns related to the Covid-19 outbreak are estimated to have reached 95% of adults an average of 17 times, the spokesperson said.