London — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that coronavirus lockdown restrictions will ease in England from July 4, with pubs, restaurants, hotels, libraries and hairdressers allowed to reopen. Some businesses, like bowling alleys, indoor gyms, and nail salons, will remain closed.
Johnson also said the distance that people are told to maintain from one another will be halved, from 2 meters (about six feet) to one meter (about three feet), as long as other precautions are in place, and that the lockdown measures would become official government guidance, rather than legislation with possible legal ramifications for violators.
"Today we can say our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end," Johnson told the House of Commons. He warned, however, that the easing of the restrictions could be reversed at any time — either locally or across all of England — if the rate of COVID-19 infections spikes.
"The virus has no interest in these debates. It's only interest, it's only ambition is to capture ground that we might carelessly vacate and reinfect our communities," Johnson said.
The U.K. first went into lockdown on March 23. Stores and offices were closed and people were allowed to leave their homes only once per day for an hour of exercise, or for essential trips for medical care or groceries. Some of those restrictions have already eased over recent weeks, but many businesses have remained closed, including beleaguered restaurants and pubs.
Johnson's announcement applies only to England, as other countries in the U.K. have set their own, slightly varied lockdown guidelines. Scotland and Northern Ireland are largely following suit. Wales, where authorities are dealing with a significant outbreak at a poultry processing plant, is expected to remain under lockdown for a couple weeks longer.
"While we remain vigilant, we do not believe there is currently a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS (National Health Service)," Johnson said.
Johnson's announcement came as Germany, a country that implemented its coronavirus lockdown more quickly, had many fewer coronavirus deaths than the U.K. and reopened its economy relatively quickly, faced a new. The surge, due to a major outbreak at a meat packing plant and a couple other, smaller localized clusters, has brought swift action.
The German government reintroduced strict lockdown measures Tuesday in the western region of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck after more than 1,500 workers from the meat packing plant there tested positive for COVID-19.
"The purpose [of the reimposed lockdown] is to calm the situation, to expand testing to establish whether or not the virus has spread beyond the employees of Toennies [the meat packing plant] in the population," said Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, according to The Associated Press.
"We will get a better picture of the situation through intensive testing, and can then see more clearly within seven days what the situation is," he said.
Johnson's government has been criticized for its response to the virus outbreak. Critics argue he waited too long to impose a lockdown and failed to secure sufficient PPE for front-line health workers. In recent days, leaders have also been ridiculed for abandoning plans for a government-developed track and trace app after spending millions of dollars, in favor of a platform designed by Google and Apple.
"As we have seen in other countries, there will be flare-ups for which local measures will be needed," Johnson said. "We will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reintroduce restrictions even at national level if required."