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Johnson Outlines Plans For Phased Reopening Of Britain's Economy


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has changed course by outlining a road map for Britain to start opening back up. But leaders in the rest of the United Kingdom say not so fast. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the word is still stay put at home. Frank Langfitt reports from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The U.K. locked down on March 23. As part of the loosening, Johnson said people in England will be allowed to exercise outdoors as much as they like. Those who can't work from home should now go to work as long as they social distance. That includes factory and construction workers. And the prime minister also said elementary schools and shops could begin to reopen as early as June 1. Johnson signaled that the damage to the British economy, which analysts say is heading into a historic recession, figured in his thinking.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: We must stay alert. We must continue to control the virus and save lives. And yet we must also recognize that this campaign against the virus has come at colossal cost to our way of life. We can see it all around us in these shuttered shops and abandoned businesses and darkened pubs and restaurants.

LANGFITT: Johnson emphasized that the government will loosen step by step, closely monitoring the virus to avoid a second spike.


JOHNSON: If there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes. We've been through the initial peak, but it's coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous.

LANGFITT: In a striking split, leaders in the rest of the country rejected Johnson's change in message and continued to urge people in their jurisdictions to stay home. The U.K. government agreed not to advertise its new guidelines in Scotland, where the virus transmission rate is higher. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, said Johnson's new message - stay alert, control the virus, save lives - was vague and could put people at risk.


NICOLA STURGEON: We mustn't squander our progress by easing up too soon or by sending mixed messages that result in people thinking that it's OK to ease up now. Let me be very blunt about the consequences if we were to do that - people will die unnecessarily.

LANGFITT: The U.K. government will publish a 50-page document today detailing the new guidelines. Johnson has been pilloried for his administration's handling of the crisis. Many critics say the government moved too slowly to lock down, failed to develop crucial testing capacity, fumbled providing protective gear to health care workers and now has the highest number of deaths in Europe, well over 30,000. Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "WRINGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.