As Sir Keir Starmer said he welcomed Boris Johnson’s latest coronavirus update to the House, he finally announced he deems it safe for children to go back to school where possible, after weeks of dodging the Prime Minister’s question on the matter. Mr Johnson jumped on the opportunity to mock the Labour leader as he replied: “How welcome it was, Mr Speaker, to hear from the Right Honourable gentleman that he actively supports children now returning to schools and that he believes that for children returning to school now it is safe.
“I think he said that. I don’t want to accuse him of a U-turn!”
He added: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, and so on.
“It’s good to have his support on that matter today and I welcome the spirit and the manner in which he has responded to this statement today.”
The Prime Minsiter told MPs the commonsense and perseverance of Britons has “more than justified our faith” in them, as he delivered a Covid-19 statement to the Commons.
He said: “Since I set out our plan on May 11, we have been clear that our cautious relaxation of the guidance is entirely conditional on our continued defeat of the virus.
“In the first half of May, nearly 69,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 across the UK.
“By the first half of June that total had fallen by nearly 70 percent to just under 22,000.”
Mr Johnson told MPs: “The number of new infections is now declining by between 2 percent and 4 percent every day.
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“Four weeks ago an average of one in 400 people in the community in England had Covid-19, in the first half of June this figure was one in 1,700.
“We created a human shield around the NHS and in turn our doctors and nurses have protected us, and together we have saved our hospitals from being overwhelmed.”
The Prime Minister said the two-metre rule will be reduced to “one metre-plus” from July 4.
He told the Commons: “Given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus we can change the two-metre social distancing rule from July 4.”
He added: “Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should.
“But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre-plus, meaning they should remain one metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.”
Boris Johnson said the fewer social contacts people have, the safer they will be.
He told the Commons: “I’m acutely conscious that people will ask legitimate questions about why certain activities are allowed and others are not.
“And I must ask the House to understand that the virus has no interest in these debates, its only interest, its only ambition is to exploit any opportunities to recapture ground that we might carelessly vacate and to reinfect our communities.
“And so there is only one certainty – the fewer social contacts you have, the safer you will be.”
He added that restaurants and pubs will be allowed to reopen.
He said: “I can tell the House that we will also reopen restaurants and pubs. All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service and our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact.
“We will ask businesses to help NHS Test and Trace respond to any local outbreaks by collecting contact details from customers as happens in other countries and we will work with the sector to make this manageable.”
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Mr Johnson said guidance for business will be published later on Tuesday.
He added: “I know this rule effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy even without other restrictions, for example, it prevents all but a fraction of our hospitality industry from operating.”
The Prime Minister said every step in easing the lockdown is “scrupulously weighed”.
He said: “We cannot lift all the restrictions at once so we have to make difficult judgments. And every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence.”
Sir Keir Starmer said he welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement.
He said: “We will study the guidance, and there are obviously a number of questions that need to be answered, but overall I welcome this statement.
“I believe the Government is trying to do the right thing and in that, we will support them.”