UK’s Boris Johnson to unveil new coronavirus lockdown rules, including controversial ‘stay alert’ slogan

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to launch a new alert system ranking the coronavirus threat level from 1 to 5 in an address to the United Kingdom on Sunday evening, according to reports.

He is also expected to unveil a new national slogan: “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.”

Breaking from their usual lockstep with England in combating the crisis – the other nations of the U.K. – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- have all taken issue with the new messaging, declaring they will continue to tell the public to “Stay home, save lives.”


“The Sunday papers is the first I’ve seen of the PM’s new slogan,” First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted. “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."

In a radio interview with BBC Northern Ireland on Sunday morning, First Minister Arlene Foster said, “On the whole, the message is to stay at home. We will say we are not deviating from the message at this time.”

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, told Sky News the message to stay home has not “gone away.”

“The message I will be giving to people in Wales is while they must be alert to the continuing danger of coronavirus, if you’re not out of your house for an essential purpose – and that does include exercise, it can include shopping and it must include going to work for people who can safely do so – staying at home remains the best way that you can protect yourself and others,” he said.

As other European nations begin easing lockdown measures, Johnson is expected to extend the bulk of the country’s restrictions for at least three more weeks. The U.K., which has now recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, initially went into lockdown on March 23.


Johnson, 55, returned to work two weeks ago after being hospitalized with the virus.

He is to announce a "roadmap" of how the U.K. can start relaxing some of the lockdown measures, notably on how mothballed sectors of the economy and schools can reopen in an era of social distancing. Changes may include being able to exercise more than once a day and the reopening of garden centers.

The prime minister’s conservative government has faced wide criticism for being too slow to react to the pandemic and for not supplying medical workers with enough protective gear.

Johnson himself has voiced fears of a second wave of the virus -- something infectious disease experts say will happen as nations ease their lockdowns.

"Extreme caution is actually the watchword on this," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Saturday.

His comments came as British police warned they are "fighting a losing battle" as Londoners headed out to parks, families descended on the pebble beaches of Brighton in southern England and many drivers set out on non-essential journeys amid the lockdown.

"It's vital that we don't throw away essentially the great work of seven weeks of people respecting very impressively the rules and the guidelines ... because it happens to be sunny outside this weekend," Shapps said. "That would be absolutely tragic."

The new alert system will be operated through a “joint biosecurity center” and will rank threats from level 1 “green” to level 5 “red,” the BBC reported. Though Johnson is expected to announce the U.K. is currently in level 4, borderline level 3, the system could include separate rankings for different nations in the U.K. or even different cities within the same nation.

FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Britain's Chancellor Rishi Sunak, left, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrive for a press briefing about the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, inside 10 Downing Street in London.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE)

FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Britain's Chancellor Rishi Sunak, left, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrive for a press briefing about the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, inside 10 Downing Street in London.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE)

There's also widespread speculation that Johnson will announce a 14-day quarantine for all travelers coming to the U.K. as part of measures aimed at avoiding a second peak, according to The Associated Press.

Johnson is scheduled to meet with his cabinet, leaders of the devolved nations and the mayor of London during an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon before his evening address at 19:00 BST.

His communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, defended the prime minister’s new “stay alert” slogan in an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying the country needed to “update and broaden” the message to the public past the current “stay at home” advice.

"Stay alert will mean stay alert by staying home as much as possible, but stay alert when you do go out by maintaining social distancing, washing your hands, respecting others in the workplace and the other settings that you'll go to," he said.

Speaking on the same program, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the “problem with the new message is that many people will be puzzled by it."


"When you're dealing with a public health crisis of this nature you need absolute clarity from government about what the advice is. There is no room for nuance," he added.

The United Kingdom, as of Sunday, recorded 216,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 31,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.