Coronavirus: Lockdown eased in England as people return to work

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People in England can spend more time outside, meet a friend at the park and move home, as the government begins easing some lockdown measures.

Under new rules, introduced on Wednesday, garden centres can reopen and people can meet one person from outside their household.

Sports that are physically distanced – such as golf – are also now permitted.

Meanwhile, some employees who cannot work from home are being encouraged to return to their workplaces.

It follows a speech by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday in which he unveiled a “conditional plan” aimed at reopening society, much of which has been in lockdown since 23 March.

This has led to a divergence in lockdown rules between the UK government and the devolved administrations, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland keeping stricter measures in place and retaining the message to stay at home.

In England, employers have been issued with guidelines on keeping workplaces as safe as possible, including the use of staggered shifts and frequent cleaning.

And those who flout the rules could face criminal proceedings, the Health and Safety Executive watchdog has warned.

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Media captionCoronavirus: Moving house during a pandemic

In other developments, estate agents can now reopen, viewings can take place and removal firms and conveyancers can re-start operations, so long as social-distancing and workplace safety rules are followed.

Anyone who has already bought a new home will now be able to visit it to prepare for moving in.

About 450,000 people are estimated to have had their moving plans put on hold during the crisis, with property website Zoopla suggesting £82bn worth of deals have been stalled.

There was also news late on Tuesday for childminders who were told government guidance had been amended to allow them to reopen so long as they cared for children from just one household.

The updated lockdown regulations, which were presented to Parliament by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Tuesday, also allow people to leave their homes to collect goods ordered from businesses and travel to waste or recycling centres.

Some outdoor sports can get under way again, with golf clubs and tennis courts expected to reopen to the public. Playgrounds, however, will stay shut.

Restrictions have also been lifted on how far people can travel to get to the countryside, national parks and beaches in England.

However, people have been warned to respect local communities, keep their distance from others and avoid hotspots or busy areas.

The government is still advising people to only use public transport for essential journeys and reiterated that staying overnight at a holiday or second home is not allowed.

Those who break the rules will now face fines starting at £100 in England, and this will double on each further repeat offence up to £3,200.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would “continue to use common sense and discretion” in policing the new rules.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Spending time outdoors, exercising or just enjoying the countryside is essential for our physical health and wellbeing. The restrictions have impacted everyone, but particularly those without much living space or a garden.

“We want to make life as healthy, bearable and social as possible, whilst controlling the virus and saving lives. That is why we have worked to find safe ways to enable more people to spend more time outdoors.”

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Tuesday that the furlough scheme, currently supporting 7.5 million jobs, will be extended until the end of October.

From August, however, employers will be expected to pick up a share of the bill, as the economy reopens.

And for the self-employed, the chance to apply for an income support grant of up to £7,500 opens from 08:00 BST.

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