Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland will continue to issue the “stay at home” advice to tackle the coronavirus outbreak as Boris Johnson’s new “stay alert” slogan came under criticism for being unclear.
The First Minister said she would stick with the original messaging “given the critical point we are at”, exposing a rift ahead of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on Sunday evening.
Mr Johnson will tell the country to “stay alert, control the virus and save lives” when he outlines his “road map” to a new normality with a warning system to track the outbreak.
But opposition politicians criticised the message as being ambiguous and Ms Sturgeon said the first she had heard of the “the PM’s new slogan” was in newspaper reports.
“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,” she tweeted.
The Sunday papers is the first Iâve seen of the PMâs new slogan. It is of course for him to decide whatâs 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. https://t.co/zrnEgTC15H— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 10, 2020
With official figures suggesting that the UK death toll has passed 36,500, Mr Johnson acknowledged “this is the dangerous bit” ahead of his 7pm announcement to set out his “road map” for a new normality.
But the PM hopes to restart the economy by encouraging people back to work while maintaining social-distancing rules.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the new warning system will allow for restrictions to be strengthened or relaxed in different areas depending on localised outbreaks.
But he hoped that all four nations would agree to the same approach when the PM convenes leaders for 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.
But he struggled to concisely explain exactly what the new advice means, when questioned on the BBC.
“Stay alert will mean stay alert by staying home as much as possible,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“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 will go to.”
Mr Jenrick insisted “we’re not going to take risks with the public” but said “we want now to have a message which encourages people to go to work”.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the PM to give “crystal-clear clarity” on how the public must behave amid concerns that the lockdown is in jeopardy.
“We need absolute clarity from Boris Johnson. There’s no room for nuance in this,” the Labour MP told Ridge.
“This virus exploits ambivalence, it thrives on ambiguity, and I think the problem with the slogan that has been briefed to the newspapers is people will be looking slightly puzzled, questioning ‘What does it mean to stay alert?’”
The Liberal Democrats’ acting co-leader, Sir Ed Davey, said changing the slogan “makes the police’s job near impossible and may cause considerable alarm”.
The PM will unveil a warning system administered by a new “joint biosecurity centre” that will detect local increases in infection rates.
Mr Jenrick told Ridge it will “inform what we do at a local level and if we see there are outbreaks in particular localities, neighbourhoods, schools, towns, then we may be able to take particular measures in those places”.
With the alerts ranging from green in level one to red in level five, Mr Johnson will 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.
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.”
Later this week, Mr Johnson will address the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives amid concerns that some of his MPs will be unenthused by the gradual easing.
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.
Ministers are also planning to impose a 14-day quarantine on people arriving in the UK by plane from any country apart from the Republic of Ireland.