England on Wednesday, May 13, 2020 tentatively began easing its coronavirus lockdown, with some people who cannot do their jobs at home urged to return to work, as stark economic data showed the disastrous impact of the pandemic.
According to official data, Britain, the worst-hit country in Europe with over 40,000 deaths from COVID-19, has been in extensive lockdown since March 23.
As of Wednesday, people in manufacturing and certain other sectors were being asked to return to work if they could.
GDP data showed the economy shrank by a record 5.8 per cent in March from February, and the April data is likely to be even worse as the country was under lockdown for the entire month.
“We are seeing one quarter of GDP contraction with only a few days of impact from the virus so it is now.
“Yes, very likely that the UK economy will face a significant recession this year and we are in the middle of that as we speak,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said.
The government is loosening restrictions only gradually, for fear of triggering a second peak of infections.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the process as a “supremely difficult” balancing act.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have semi-autonomous governments, are sticking with a “stay at home” message for now, leaving England, the most populous UK nation, to take the lead in sending some people back to work.
In London, commuter trains appeared busier than in past weeks, though still very far from pre-pandemic overcrowding.
Many people wore face masks, and made noticeable efforts to observe distancing.
At Stratford, a usually busy hub in east London, a one-way system for entering and exiting the station was in place, with loudspeakers telling passengers on where to walk.
Road traffic into the city was steady; though also well below traditional rush hour levels.
Digital information panels said: “Stay home, essential travel only, save lives.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan posted a message on Twitter to tell Londoners not much had changed.
“Lockdown has not been lifted. Please keep social distancing and stay at home as much as possible.
“If you have to make an essential journey by public transport, wear a non-medical face covering to protect others,” Sadiq wrote.
The government has faced a barrage of criticism that its new guidance, “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” was confusing and that people were being given mixed messages about how safe it was to have contact with others.