Robert Peston

Boris Johnson’s confusing lockdown rule change

Boris Johnson's confusing lockdown rule change
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The miracle achieved by Boris Johnson's 50-page 'Plan to rebuild" strategy for 'Covid-19 recovery' is that somehow the PM succeeded in alienating the leaders of Wales and Scotland and create an apparent rift between the nations, when the liberation from lockdown he is offering the people of England is so slight as to be barely perceptible.

There is a tonal shift in respect of work, namely that the PM would like to see businesses that are not on the proscribed list, such as factories and building sites, operating again. But that's a wish, not an order. And the overarching message is unchanged, namely that it is far better to work from home where that is possible.

In other words, the PM would much prefer Nissan motorcars to be handcrafted in workers' front rooms. But since that is unlikely to be feasible any time soon, he would nudge car-workers back to the production line, so long as they and their robots can be insulated from the virus.

As for the long lost social side of our lives, we are now permitted to play singles tennis, but not doubles (unless all four of you live in the same house). We can still go out for walks with everyone who lives with us, but the other members of our households have to make themselves scarce if in the course of the excursion we meet and stop to chat with our respective mums. And if mum happens to be out with dad, one of them has to hop off if a chance meeting turns into a serious encounter.

Oh, and you can drive to the other side of the country if it takes your fancy, but you have to be home before bedtime: overnight stays are still banned anywhere but your own bed.

As for face coverings, they should preferably be improvised affairs, rather than medical ones, because proper masks are needed by our front line carers. And the government has advised – later than some say is ideal – that it is a good idea to wear these coverings on a bus or train or other indoor peopled space. But wearing a piece of cloth over mouth and nose is not obligatory (except in the sense that if everyone else starts to wear them, you may feel socially awkward and naked without one). This is freedom in the style of Alice in Wonderland redrafted by Franz Kafka. But few of us will complain if it prevents any new and devastating surge in the spread of the virus.

But it is all a bit confusing. And the carrots offered by the PM for good behaviour aren't much less stressful. There is the idea that we may be able to enlarge our household circle by nominating another household as part of an extended friends-and-family circle or bubble with whom we could share childcare and have social contact.

Let's be under no illusion about this looming nightmare: divorces have been triggered by much lesser provocation than having to choose which side of the family or set of friends are the ones that matter. And I am not sure that household harmony will be much improved when 10-year-olds are back in school in June but 11-year-olds won't be – as is the prospect for June.

All that said, those of us who are not in the clinically vulnerable groups should be grateful for small mercies. At least Johnson is permitting us to play a game of singles, if such is our fancy, rather than being kept under unyielding house arrest for the foreseeable future (till a vaccine or truly effective therapy is found, which the government paper says may be never).

Written byRobert Peston

Robert Peston is Political Editor of ITV News and host of the weekly political discussion show Peston. This post originally appeared on his ITV News blog

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