Britain's Johnson to set out five-tier coronavirus warning system

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out a five-tier warning system for the coronavirus in England on Sunday when he outlines the government’s roadmap for gradually easing lockdown measures that have shut down much of the economy for nearly seven weeks.

Johnson will use a televised address at 1800 GMT to announce limited changes, including encouraging more of those who cannot work from home to return to their offices and factories, and allowing people to exercise more than once a day, according to a government minister and British media.

The government’s flagship “stay at home” slogan will be replaced with “stay alert”, a decision that drew criticism from opposition parties for being too ambiguous.

“We need to have a broader message because we want to slowly and cautiously restart the economy and the country,” housing minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News, adding that Johnson would be setting out the roadmap for “the weeks and months ahead”.

In a separate interview on BBC TV, Jenrick said staying at home would still be an important part of the government’s message, and there would be “no grand reopening of the economy tonight”.

Britain has reported 31,587 deaths from the coronavirus, the second highest death toll in the world after the United States, and some 215,260 confirmed infections.

The Sunday Times reported that scientific advisers had told the government that deaths could exceed 100,000 by the end of the year if lockdown measures are relaxed too fast.

Johnson will detail a five-tier warning system for England, ranging from “green” at level 1 to “red” at level 5 to flag the COVID-19 risk in different areas and to allow the government to increase restrictions where necessary.

The government wants the United Kingdom’s other constituent nations – Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – to follow the same steps but they have the power to diverge in their measures.

Jenrick said the country is currently at 4 on the scale and authorities want that brought down to 3 as fast as possible.

“At each stage … we will be in a position to open up and restart more aspects of the economy and of our lives,” he said, adding that changes would be conditional on keeping the virus under control.

Colour-coded systems to distinguish regions with more or less risk have been used in other countries as they emerge from lockdowns, including France and India.

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Twitter that her message to Scotland would continue to be to stay at home.

Opposition parties criticised the government’s new “stay alert” slogan as confusing.

“There is no room for nuance,” the Labour Party’s health spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth, told BBC TV. “Many people will be puzzled by it … This virus really does exploit ambivalence and thrive on ambiguity, we need clarity at all times.”

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