Ahead of Monday’s crunch Cabinet meeting to make the final decisions on lifting lockdown, the Government has revealed a package worth hundreds of millions of pounds to allow normality to begin to return and the economy to get going again.New measures include investment in high streets and the transport network to make them safe to use again.
They will also unveil an advanced trace and test system with 25,000 contact tracers recruited as part of the largest virtual call centre operation in the country.
Other measures include a risk assessment report which shows Parliament can return to normal business and end the hybrid arrangements when MPs return from their recess on June 2.
There is also a plan to ensure rough sleepers have somewhere to live and do not return to the streets.
Already plans were being put in place for a phased reopening of schools from June 1.
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A Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister will hold Cabinet on Monday to update his Government on the ways we will slowly begin to ease restrictions for certain sectors.
“Whilst no changes are expected before June 1, it is understood that this week will see guidance and advice in relation to the sectors that are covered in step 2.
“This will include an update on the new trace and test programme, an announcement on schools, and potentially an update on non essential retail.
“The Prime Minister will advise the public on what the data and research is telling us, mapped against our timetable for unlocking the country.”
The move comes amid growing pressure on the government to get the economy going again after Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned this week that the country and world face “a recession like no other before” because of coronavirus.
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The decisions on coming out of lockdown follow the latest figures appearing to confirm government optimism that the UK can be near to normality by July.
On Sunday it was revealed just 12 percent of critical beds have coronavirus patients, down 17 percent from the week before.
There were 282 deaths from coronavirus reported bringing the total to 36,675.
Tests though are still running well above the government target of 100,000 a day with 116,585 reported for Friday and just 2,959 confirmed new cases.
The country will also have to work out how to pay back borrowing for the £300 billion bailout package which has seen thousands of jobs protected in a furlough scheme and support for businesses and some self employed.
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The UK’s lockdown has seen empty streets and businesses struggle as they have been forced to close
A key part of the safety measures is a new £50 million fund for councils to support their local high streets to get safely back to business aimed at reigniting local economies.
It will support a range of practical safety measures including new signs, street markings and temporary barriers.
This will help get businesses get ready for when they can begin trading safely, not only in high streets and town and city centres, but also in other public spaces like beachfronts and promenades.
High Streets Minister Simon Clarke MP said: “As we begin to slowly return to normality, the re-opening of our high streets will be key to kick-starting our economic recovery.
“Many businesses have already introduced creative ways of trading such as contactless collection or taking orders by instant messaging and this shows that they are ready for the challenges ahead.
“That’s why we are providing an extra £50 million for councils to support a range of safety measures that will help get these businesses back on track and ensure that people can enjoy their time visiting their local high street safely again.”
The Fund is in addition to the £3.2 billion package of support announced for councils to help them deal with the immediate pressures they have said they are facing.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, chairman of people and places for the Local Government Association, said: “This funding will building on ongoing work to implement measures to help communities and high streets to transition to a new way of life.”
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Meanwhile, transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced £283m has been made available to increase the number of bus and light rail services as quickly as possible so that people who need to travel, including critical workers in the NHS, can do so safely.
The funding – amounting to £254m for buses and £29m for trams and light rail – will help protect and increase services, allowing people travelling to hospitals, supermarkets or their place of work to get to their destination safely and quickly, while helping ensure there is enough space for them to observe social distancing guidelines.
This includes an app from start up tech company Zipabout which provides journey information to enable crowd management.
A spokeswoman for the company said: “It will be able to text you to say ‘please don’t get on the 8.10am today as it is looking too busy to travel. We expect you on the 8.18am instead’ and then manage crowds that way.”
This comes with further investment in railways to regenerate local economies and level up Britain and £1billion upgrade to a major road link, the A66, which runs across Northern Powerhouse, from Teeside to Cumbria.
The new test and trace system is set to launch at the end of this week, with 25,000 contact tracers recruited as part of the largest virtual call centre operation in the country.
According to Downing Street, the national effort in bringing the infection rate down has made it possible to move on to this stage.
The Government’s overarching objective in the battle against coronavirus is to find a vaccine. However, as the Prime Minister has said, a mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away and in a worst-case scenario a vaccine may never be found, and it is therefore important that the Government has a plan in place for all scenarios.
Therefore, in order to return life to as close to as normal as possible, for as many people as possible, in a way that is safe and avoids a second peak – a testing and tracing system will be required to help us to contain this virus and move the country forward.
A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “A test and trace system allows us to isolate new infections so that we can control the spread of this virus, which will be vital while coronavirus remains present in the UK.
“As we continue on the road to recovery, this will mean that in time lockdown will no longer be necessary for the vast majority of the public and instead it will be possible for there to be a targeted lockdown for a small number of people.
“For this to be effective, everyone will need to stay alert and play their part to control the virus and save lives. By working with our tracers and complying with the rules, the public will avoid unknowingly spreading the virus to their loved ones and this new test and trace service will help to control coronavirus.”