Coronavirus – Mixed Messaging in the four Nations of the UK

Yesterday, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announced a major change to the slogan message that we have all lived with for the last seven weeks of lockdown, ………….except it was just for England.

new England message

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have retained the original message ….surely a recipe for confusion, particularly in border areas ?

The red  hatching of the original message was specifically chosen to highlight warning, hazard, and emergency around the “stay home” message… the green hatching has a very different meaning in terms of safety regulations  – a far more positive message signifying a way out of the lockdown and hope ?

Where did the “Stay Alert” slogan come from ? the only clue I have found is from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s  address yesterday, marking the third anniversary of his inauguration. “…..while keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention, it’s not over until it’s over”. Nevertheless, the new slogan remains ambiguous to many people, despite politicians trying to explain it.

There are significant differences between the four Nations with regard to exercise and leisure.

England : from Wednesday, 13th May, people will be able to spend more time outdoors “for leisure purposes”

They can “take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise” rather than only exercising once a day. People will also be free to sit in parks,  and be able to “play sports” with people from the same household.

Wales : from today Monday 11th May, people will be able to exercise outside more than once a day and some garden centres will reopen, as long as they can maintain social distancing measures. Mark Drakeford , First Minister has emphasised the stay at home message.

The exercise rules mean you can now go outside to walk, run or jog more than once a day, but the Welsh Government has stressed you must “stay local”. Unlike in England, you cannot drive to another destination to exercise, and may be fined if you do.

Scotland : A slight change to the lockdown rules means people in Scotland are now able to venture outside for exercise more than once day.

  • Nicola Sturgeon has stressed the “stay at home” message remains in place in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, the Stormont executive is to meet later on Monday, May 11th to consider a plan to slowly take NI out of lockdown. The executive has already extended lockdown in NI until 28 May. Politicians in NI have also emphasised the “stay at home message”.

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To me, this is all a bit of  a “dogs breakfast.” As far as I can see, people in England  can drive anywhere in the country for any purpose, and see family one at a time in a public park, whilst maintaining social distancing.

Here in Wales, that is not permitted. We can now exercise more than once a day but we must stay local, and we can also visit garden centres from today., our only permitted leisure activity We cannot drive over the Severn bridges into England to see family in Bristol, and they cannot drive into Wales, as the 2 nations have such different legal measures on this matter.

These anomalies need to be resolved quickly. We need to return to a single UK Plan to lift lockdown, with a single messaging policy. How such an important power  has been allowed to be devolved to the four Nations of the UK is a mystery to me.

I would argue that although many of the powers that relate to the management of the coronavirus have been devolved to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland over the last 20 years ago, this issue is so important that there should be emergency legislation passed  to define “the management of a pandemic” as a  “reserved power” of the United Kingdom Government at Westminster.  

I will explore this in a later post.

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