Angry Greenwich council leader criticises Johnson after coronavirus broadcast

Boris Johnson's TV broadcast
Johnson’s message set England apart from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Greenwich Council’s leader Danny Thorpe said he was left “pretty angry” after Boris Johnson’s ministerial broadcast on the coronavirus pandemic last night – saying much was still unclear about the next steps in the crisis.

Johnson used a 13-minute broadcast last night to announce a slight weakening in England’s lockdown from Wednesday and a “conditional plan” to reopen society. Eight weeks after people were told to “stay at home”, the prime minister said “anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work” – but told people to keep avoiding public transport.

He also said that from there could be moves for a “phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools” from 1 June if the virus was at bay. Official advice for England is now to “stay alert” rather than “stay at home” – but in the rest of the UK, it remains “stay at home”.

But Thorpe said there were “a lot more questions and clarity needed”, and said on social media that he had been angered by Johnson saying “we must sort PPE”, with the distribution network for protective equipment still not up and running.

“On testing, we finally received a letter today advising our director of public health he will become responsible for managing testing in care homes. Days after this has been briefed to the press. Not good enough. If we’re going to do this properly we need to be able to plan,” Thorpe said.

“We need to stop responding to this pandemic by press release and ensure local government has the info we need. Of course, we’re absolutely determined to play our part and once again [we’re] ready to step up and deliver. As we’ve done for weeks now.”

"Stay home" signage on Well Hall Road
The government’s advice has now changed to “stay alert”

Thorpe added: “Much more clarity is needed on which businesses can open – many can interpret ‘not being able to work from home’ in many different ways. We will try to get as much clarity as possible and share with people ASAP. What we don’t need is a massive surge tomorrow. I’m very unclear as to what “drive to other destinations” means – are we allowed to the beach? Or another part of the city? Clarity is needed immediately.”

The council leader also said there were “many, many questions and details needed” about reopening schools “and we will begin urgent discussions with schools across Greenwich about the practicalities needed to open reception, years 1 and 6”.

“So with so much unclear tonight, I think we have no choice but to keep calm and carry on until we get some further details,” he added.

Greenwich’s cabinet member for finance, Chris Kirby, said: “At 12 hours’ notice the government are sending people back to work, without any details of how they can safely get there, or any sense of how they can be kept safe when they arrive.

“People haven’t been able to see family members for weeks on end – people have missed births, deaths, sickness and comfort. But now, without any details, they are expected to go into the office and share a space with untold numbers of colleagues without any option or control.”

Social distancing banner in Maryon Park, Charlton
Official advice remains to keep two metres apart from other people

The London Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses across London, said its “strong and unequivocal advice to London businesses is not to change your plans for tomorrow. You have not been given sufficient information on how to get your employees safely to work, nor how to keep them safe while they are there.”

Other South London council leaders reacted to Johnson’s speech with barely-disguised disdain. Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, tweeted the old slogan: “#StayHomeSaveLives – #Covid19 hasn’t been beaten and the lockdown has NOT been lifted. Always observe social distancing. If you are in any doubt about what to do after the announcement – the best advice continues to be #StayHomeSaveLives. This will be a gradual process of re-opening – and must be led by real reductions in infections and deaths.”

Lambeth leader Jack Hopkins went in harder: “Plan not in any way discussed and clarified with those of us in local government who are being asked to implement, enforce and protect our public. It’s an absolute disgrace and totally irresponsible.”

He later retweeted the food writer Jay Rayner: “To call this as clear as mud is an insult to mud.”

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