Nicola Sturgeon has said she will continue to use the “stay at home” message to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland as a rift in the UK-wide response opened ahead of Boris Johnson’s address to the nation.
The Prime Minister will tell the country to “stay alert, control the virus and save lives” when he outlines his “road map” to a new normality in an address to the nation on Sunday.
He plans to drop the stricter “stay at home” message as he prepares to unveil his plans to ease the lockdown in a broadcast to the nation on Sunday evening.
Johnson is now telling the public to “stay at home as much as possible”, keep two metres apart when going out and “limit contact” with other people.
But leaders of all the devolved nations in the UK have unanimously rejected the new message in favour of “stay at home”.
Sturgeon said the first she had heard of the “the PM’s new slogan” was in newspaper reports and that she would not be switching her messaging “given the critical point we are at”.
Her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, said the “stay home” message has not changed in Wales and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster also said the nation will continue to use the “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” slogan.
The backlash against the proposed new advice, leaked to Sunday newspapers in advance of the Prime Minister’s address, resulted in Number 10 issuing a statement attempting to clarify what “stay alert” means.
A Downing Street spokesman said the public can stay alert by “staying at home as much as possible”, “limiting contact with other people” and keeping two metres apart where possible.
“We can control the virus by keeping the rate of infection (R) and the number of infections down,” the spokesman said.
“This is how we can continue to save lives and livelihoods as we start to recover from coronavirus.
“Everyone has a role to play in keeping the rate of infection (R) down by staying alert and following the rules.”
Johnson will unveil a coronavirus warning system when he outlines his plans to gradually ease the lockdown while urging workers who cannot do their jobs from home to begin resuming their roles but maintain social-distancing rules.
“This is the dangerous bit,” he warned ahead of the announcement.
On Sunday morning, Sturgeon tweeted: “The Sunday papers is the first I’ve seen of the PM’s new slogan.
“It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage.”Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland
“It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage.”
Shortly before Sturgeon’s tweet, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said he hoped all four nations will agree to take the same approach when the PM speaks to them in a Cobra meeting on Sunday afternoon.
“We hope that they will agree to a consistent approach across the country, that’s our strong preference,” Mr Jenrick told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
It is understood that a warning system administered by a new “joint biosecurity centre” will detect local increases in infection rates, with a view to locally altering restrictions in England.
With the alerts ranging from green in level one to red in level five, Johnson is expected to say the nation is close to moving down from four to three.
On Monday, the Government will publish a 50-page document outlining to MPs the full plan to cautiously re-start the economy after figures suggested the overall death toll for the UK has passed 36,500.
The shift in messaging will come amid concerns that workers may not feel comfortable resuming their roles after the weeks of firm instructions to “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives”.
That could be a test for ministers, with unions warning that they might not recommend their millions-strong membership to resume their roles if safety is not assured.
“The trade union movement wants to be able to recommend the government’s back-to-work plans,” Unison, Unite, the GMB, Usdaw and the Trades Union Congress wrote in a letter to the Observer.
“But for us to do that, we need to ensure that ministers have listened and that we stay safe and save lives at work too.”
Meanwhile, a scientific adviser to the Government told the Sunday Times that the UK could still suffer more than 100,000 deaths by the end of the year if measures are hastily relaxed, adding: “There is very limited room for manoeuvre.”
The PM acknowledged the scale of the danger, saying “we’ll have to work even harder to get every step right” now the peak is passed, before making a mountaineering analogy.
“You have very few options on the climb up – but it’s on the descent you have to make sure you don’t run too fast, lose control and stumble,” he told the Sun on Sunday.
Later this week, Johnson will address the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives amid concerns that some of his MPs will be unenthused by the gradual easing.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Downing Street briefing on Saturday that the PM would be proceeding with “extreme caution”.
The incoming changes for England are only expected to be very modest, with a lifting of the limit of only one form of exercise per day and to permit garden centres to reopen.
But in a toughening of measures, fines for those who fail to abide by the rules will be hiked.
Shapps did not deny that ministers are planning to impose a 14-day quarantine on people arriving in the UK by plane from any country apart from the Republic of Ireland.