May 11, 2020 / 7:05 AM / in 25 days

To work or not to work? UK lockdown unwind mired by confusion

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Monday give details of how to get the economy back to work, after his attempt to plot a nuanced exit from the coronavirus lockdown prompted confusion, opposition and even satire across the United Kingdom.

People walk along London Bridge following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

In an address to the nation, Johnson said the lockdown would not end yet but encouraged some people to return to work, though the leaders of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland said they were sticking with the existing “stay-at-home” message.

“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown,” Johnson said on Sunday evening. “Anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.”

Johnson said from Wednesday people would be allowed to exercise more and some manufacturing workers could go back to work, while some children might be able to go back to school in June.

The government will publish 50 pages of detailed guidance at 1300 GMT, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday.

But Johnson’s attempt to set out what his government called a ‘roadmap’ out of the lockdown prompted disagreement among the United Kingdom’s constituent parts and criticism from opposition parties which said he had confused the public.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson had raised more questions than he had answered and there was now the prospect of different parts of the United Kingdom pulling in different directions.

“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those,” he said in a statement.

The decision to replace the government’s “stay-at-home” slogan, drummed into the public for weeks, was criticised by opposition parties who called the new “stay alert” message ambiguous.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the only modification she was making to lockdown measures was to allow people to exercise more.

Johnson’s stern message even prompted satire.

“So we are saying don’t go to work, go to work, don’t take public transport go to work, don’t go to work,” comedian Matt Lucas said in a short video which gained over 100,000 likes on Twitter. “If you can work from home, go to work.”

“And then we will or won’t, something or other.”

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden

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