Britain’s roads were busier than they have been for weeks this afternoon as traffic levels crept up in the evening rush hour – a further sign that people are growing restless during the coronavirus lockdown as the last of the sunny weather saw families make a last ditch trip to the seaside.
Traffic data from TomTom showed the congestion level in London at 4pm today was 34 per cent below average – significantly up on last week’s figures at the same time. Friday at 4pm saw congestion 48 per cent below the 2019 average, Thursday 47 per cent, Wednesday 44 per cent and Tuesday 42 per cent.
It will pile pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson who returned to work today as calls for an easing of the lockdown from within his party grow. With measures in place until at least May 7, he acknowledged frustrations over the restrictions but insisted he would not risk a second peak in the disease by relaxing them too quickly.
Photographs taken during rush hour showed queues building up on London roads including the A40 at Perivale and the A102 at Greenwich, while the M5 in Bristol and the M6 in Walsall were also busy with cars, vans and lorries.
Meanwhile rail commuters continue to pile onto London Underground trains as travel bosses carry on running a reduced service only for key workers, with Canning Town and Canada Water stations both busy this morning.
It comes as more businesses announce plans to reopen, with bakery Greggs set to reopen several stores in a trial, and key cutting and shoe repair firm Timpson opening some sites with strict hygiene and social distancing rules.
Mobility data from Apple based on requests for directions via its apps showed more people are now driving, but the use of public transport has remained static. Traffic in London on Friday and Saturday – the most recent Apple data available – was up 4 per cent on the week before. Walking is also steadily increasing – it was up 8 per cent on the week before in London on Saturday.
TomTom congestion data in London this morning showed 14 per cent congestion at 8am, down 49 percentage points on normal. But that represents a one percentage point increase on the 13 per cent figure recorded at 8am last Monday, and a two percentage point rise on the 12 per cent at the same time three weeks ago.
Meanwhile Google Maps showed congestion in parts of central and southern London, in another sign of more cars on the road today than in recent weeks since the lockdown began on March 23. Anecdotal reports also indicate an increase in traffic, with motorists claiming a queue formed at the Blackwall Tunnel for the first time in five weeks.
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel warned drivers to stay off the roads unless their journey is essential following traffic volumes rising last week to 41 per cent of normal compared to 38 per cent the previous week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to restart the economy having returned to Downing Street last night three weeks after he was admitted to hospital with the virus to take charge of the Government’s response.
He will chair the morning meeting of the Government’s Covid-19 ‘war cabinet’ before heading into discussions with senior ministers and officials after a fortnight convalescing at his official country residence of Chequers.
Mr Johnson is facing a growing clamour from senior Tories to begin lifting the lockdown amid mounting concern at the damage it is causing to the economy, although there are fears that any relaxation risks a renewed flare up.
People flocked to Hove’s seafront again on Monday as warm weather has people heading out of their homes and to nearby parks and beaches
Whitley Bay visitors stopped to photograph pebble stacks that stretch for a quarter of mile on Monday, people were out enjoying the last of the unseasonable sunny weather as forecasts predict rain a lower temperatures to start later this week
Afternoon traffic: Traffic data from TomTom showed the congestion level in London at 4pm today was 34 per cent below average – significantly up on last week’s figures at the same time. Friday at 4pm saw congestion 48 per cent below the 2019 average, Thursday 47 per cent, Wednesday 44 per cent and Tuesday 42 per cent.
Traffic builds up on the A40 at Perivale in West London at 7.20am today despite the coronavirus lockdown continuing
Cars drive along the the A40 at Perivale in West London at 7.20am today as the UK-wide lockdown continues
Traffic on the Marylebone flyover crossing Edgware Road in West London today as the UK continues in lockdown
Families gathered on beaches across Britain on Monday, including along the Hove seafront ahead of a dip in temperature predicted to start later this week
Police remain in populated areas such as Hove’s seafront to try and prevent people from breaking soclal distancing guidelines
Since the lockdown started on March 23, visitors to Whitley Bay have been building pebble stacks, including this one of paying tribute to the NHS’ work during the coroanvirus pandemic. People continued to visit the beach on Monday
People could be seen taking their daily walk along Whitley Bay beach on Monday during the last of the April sunshine before the weather turns colder
Scarborough’s sandy beach was pretty empty on Monday as Britain remains under lockdown rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
LONDON: Mobility data from Apple based on requests for directions via its apps showed levels of people driving (in red) or walking (in orange) are both rising, although the use of public transport (in purple) has remained roughly the same all month
This TomTom graph shows congestion in London at 8am today was at 14 per cent. This is down 49 percentage points on the normal level. That is an increase on morning rush hour last week. At 8am on Tuesday to Thursday last week, the congestion levels were down between 51 and 53 percentage points on normal levels.
ALL UK: Driving and walking levels are also gradually rising for the UK as a whole, although are still well below normal
The lockdown is due to be reviewed on May 7, but there have been signs that it could be modified before this date, with early measures likely to include encouraging the construction industry to get back to work.
Mr Johnson said today that the UK is at the point of ‘maximum risk’ in its battle with coronavirus, adding that there are signs the country is ‘passing through the peak’ and ‘coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict’.
Comparing the disease to a mugger, he said: ‘This is the moment when we have begun, together, to wrestle it to the floor.’ But he said it is also the moment of maximum risk because of the danger that people would look at the ‘apparent success’ and ‘go easy’ on social distancing measures.
It remains the ‘biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war’, he said, and ‘every day I know that this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land’.
More than 20,000 people have already died with the disease in hospitals, with the true death toll including care homes and other settings likely to be far higher.
Speaking from a podium in Downing Street this morning, Mr Johnson acknowledged the pressure to lift some of the draconian restrictions imposed on British people and businesses.
He said: ‘I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can’ but ‘I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life.’
Meanwhile the FTSE 100 index of Britain’s leading companies was up 97 points or 1.7 per cent at 5,849 this morning, following overnight gains as world leaders up their plans to reopen their economies.
Scientific advice has revealed that the virus spreads much less effectively outdoors, but a Government source cautioned that any easing of the lockdown would be very gradual to avoid a deadly second wave of infection.
BIRMINGHAM: Driving and walking levels are slowly rising again in Leeds, although public transport use is roughly stable
MANCHESTER: Driving and walking levels are also rising in Manchester – with the latter rising faster than the former
LEEDS: The West Yorkshire city of Leeds is also seeing a rise in driving and walking, but public transport has stayed the same
This Google traffic map shows how the roads around London are mostly clear (in green) during rush hour this morning at about 8.15am, although there are patches of congestion (in orange or red) in some southern and central parts of the capital
They said: ‘We are moving on from Stay at Home. But that does not mean we are anywhere near going back to normal. We are all going to have to adapt to a new normal.
Which companies have already announced that they will be re-opening?
Homebase: Reopened 22 stores so far after closing them all last month
Burger King: Already opened six branches for delivery only, with another 10 more set to open soon
KFC: Reopened 15 restaurants so far for delivery orders
Greggs: Set to reopen several of its stores as part of a trial
Pret a Manger: Ten stores near hospitals in London have reopened for delivery and takeaway so far
Redrow: Housebuilder which has more than 100,000 homes to its name, will reopen its sites from May 11
Costa: Coffee shop chain reopened four branches for drive-through or delivery only last week
Timpson: Key cutting and shoe repair specialist is opening some stores with strict hygiene and social distancing.
Wizz Air: Budget airline to restart some flights from London Luton Airport on Friday
John Lewis: Expected to reopen shops from mid-May, with 20 of the 50 stores anticipated first
Taylor Wimpey: Plans to resume work on its construction sites from May 4
Vistry Group: Will re-start work on 90 per cent of partnership sites and a ‘significant number’ of housing sites from the start of this week
Aston Martin Lagonda: Will reopen its South Wales factory on May 5, but main plant in Warwickshire will stay closed for now
B&Q: Opens 155 stores across Britain with ‘strict social distancing measures in place’
Nando’s: Reopens seven of its city centre kitchens to make meals for NHS workers and local charities
Jaguar Land Rover: From May 18 manufacturing will resume in Solihull and at its engine plant in Wolverhampton
‘The Prime Minister’s big concern is avoiding a second peak, which would require a second lockdown.
‘He is clear that we cannot afford to do anything which would mean losing control of the rate of infection because that would mean more people dying. It would also mean a return to the lockdown, which would be damaging to public trust and terrible for business.’
Health minister Edward Argar said the Prime Minister’s focus would be on looking at what measures are required to ease the lockdown, including what preparations businesses will need to make beforehand.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘This isn’t binary, it is a complex set of inter-related decisions and impacts, and I’m hugely pleased he (Boris Johnson) is back at work today with his health fully restored, both as my boss but also as a friend and colleague.
‘That’s one of the things the Prime Minister will be looking at very carefully. But we do need to keep that focus on the health impact because one of the worst things, not just for the incredible human cost it would have but for our economy, would be if we let up too soon and then saw a further spike.
‘That would be far more damaging to our economy than a continuation of where we are at the moment. We have got to be very careful about understanding the health impact but also the economic impact.’
Mr Argar also said ‘we’re not there yet’ when it comes to easing social distancing measures.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I understand the frustrations that people are having with these measures, they are restrictive and they are very difficult.’
He said the measures have ‘made a real difference’.
He added: ‘I’ve seen a lot of the speculation in the papers and beyond in recent days but the reality is we’re not there yet. We’re not in a place where the science says it is safe to ease the restrictions.’
Six donors to the Conservative Party yesterday publicly called for an easing of restrictions. Billionaire financier Michael Spencer, who helped bankroll Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign, said the measures should be loosened ‘as soon as we reasonably can’.
A survey by the Institute of Directors shows that confidence among company bosses is at the lowest level recorded, with 70 per cent pessimistic about the outlook for the economy.
Traffic builds up on the A102 at Greenwich in South East London during rush hour this morning as the lockdown continues
Traffic builds up on the A102 in Greenwich in South East London today as the fight against coronavirus continues
Traffic builds up on the M4 motorway at Datchet in Berkshire during the morning rush hour at about 8am today
IoD chief Jon Geldart said there was a growing clamour for information about ‘how and when’ the lockdown would be eased to allow firms to ‘make plans for riding out this tempest’.
Cops blast lockdown rules that ‘make no sense’: Furious officers complain that they don’t know why ‘queuing at B&Q is OK, but not BBQs’ as restless Britons head out in droves
Boris Johnson was today told to ‘get a grip’ by police chiefs over nonsensical lockdown rules that saw lone sunbathers scolded but hundreds allowed to gather outside B&Qs across Britain this weekend.
With no exit plan in sight, large numbers of Britons went out to shop and enjoy the weather over the weekend amid fears the lockdown appears to be unravelling.
Police were seen speaking to individuals sunbathing alone or with a partner in Greenwich Park, Hyde Park and St James’ Park in London yesterday.
Yet B&Q’s decision to reopen 130 stores saw massive queues forming outside its outlets in Watford, Edinburgh, Bristol and Swansea, as people used the shutdown to catch up on DIY.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the ‘Stay at Home’ message was still needed and said it would ‘create more uncertainty in the public’s mind’ if ministers started talking about how it might be eased. But behind the scenes, senior figures are now working on a new message.
A ‘quad’ of senior ministers, comprising Mr Raab, Mr Hancock, Michael Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been holding a daily strategy meeting at 6pm to discuss ‘the next phase’ of the battle against the virus.
Election guru Isaac Levido has been tasked with devising a slogan, which could be unveiled within days following focus group testing. Mr Johnson will today begin holding one-to-one talks with each member of the Cabinet to discuss developments which occurred during his absence.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said she wants to see shifts staggered and social distancing rules continue when the lockdown is eased by the Government.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Everyone wants people to get back to work safely so we can get the economy back on its feet.
‘But workers have to know and be confident that their health and safety is being put first. Otherwise we are going to see the virus spread again and be back to square one.
‘We are calling for tough new measures – we think there should be a proper risk assessment on the virus in every workplace, that we need practical changes like social distancing, staggered shifts, safe transport.
‘And we need those risk assessments signed-off by unions or health and safety inspectors, with tough enforcement and the resources to do that tough enforcement.’
A steady flow of shoppers at a B&Q store in York today – one of 155 branches that the homeware and DIY chain has reopened
People could be seen exercising in the water at Hove seafront on Monday, while others sat on the beach. Police were patrolling to make people were obeying social distancing guidelines
Shoppers queue up outside a B&Q store in York today as people purchase DIY equipment during the lockdown
A man walks out of the B&Q store in York today with some purchases as people continue to shop during the lockdown
Workmen near a building site in London’s Paddington today as the UK continues in lockdown in the fight against the virus
Workmen on a building site at Paddington in Central London today as some construction employees go back to work
People observe social distancing guidelines as they queue to enter shops and banks in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, today
Ms O’Grady said the issue should be at the ‘top of the Prime Minister’s in-tray’ now that he has returned to work.
A Government spokesman said: ‘The Business Secretary continues to meet regularly with representatives from all sectors, business organisations and trade unions.
‘It is only right the Government works together with industry and unions to ensure workplaces are as safe as possible both now, and as Government measures develop.
‘Only when the evidence suggests that it is safe to do so, and the scientific advice provides for it, will we adjust the current measures in place.’
Mr Raab – who has been deputising for Mr Johnson in his absence – said he was ‘raring to go’ at a time when the numbers of patients in hospital with the disease is beginning to fall.
Over the weekend, ministers highlighted a warning by Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey of the economic devastation a second wave of the disease would cause.
Traffic near junction ten on the M6 at Walsall in the West Midlands this morning as drivers hit the mororway
Motorists drive along the M6 motorway at Walsall today as cars, vans and lorries hit the roads this morning
People make their morning commute along the M5 motorway in Bristol during rush hour today
Cars, vans and lorries travel along the M5 in Bristol this morning as they commute to work in the South West of England
Mr Raab said the outbreak was at a ‘delicate and dangerous’ phase and people would have to get used to a ‘new normal’ – with social distancing measures set to remain in place for ‘some time’ to come.
Home-testing farce continues as website to order kits runs out for FOURTH day in row… three days before Matt Hancock promised UK would be doing 100,000 tests a day
Coronavirus home testing kits ran out again in just over an hour after being made available again on the new Government website for the fourth day in a row today.
More than ten million essential workers and their households are now eligible for Covid-19 checks as officials race to hit their 100,000-a-day tests target by Thursday.
But as of 9.05am today home testing kits for England were listed as ‘unavailable’ on the gov.uk/coronavirus website – some 65 minutes after booking slots reopened.
Following the website’s launch last Friday morning, slots for both home-testing and drive-through centres in England have been used up within the first few hours.
People could still book drive-through tests in England and Scotland as of 10am today, but slots in were listed as unavailable in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Under the expansion of the testing, NHS and social care staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, journalists and those who work in supermarkets and food production are among those now eligible.
Test booking slots or home testing kits will become available from 8am each day, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said, with their release staggered throughout the day.
The Government is ‘working hard’ to increase the availability of Covid-19 tests through the online service, according to a DHSC spokesman, who added: ‘There has been significant demand for booking tests.
It comes as a Government scientific adviser said up to 100,000 Covid-19 tests per day could be needed as part of a widespread testing and tracking strategy.
Mr Johnson – who spent a week in St Thomas’ Hospital in London, including three nights intensive care – is said to be determined to ensure that there is no second peak.
The pressure to begin easing the restrictions came from a series of wealthy Tory backers who called over the weekend for the Government to allow the economy to re-start.
They echoed former chancellor Philip Hammond who said the country could not afford to wait for a vaccine to be developed, saying the ‘economy will not survive that long’.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee of MPs, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that more needed to be done to get the economy moving, and there was a limit to how long people would tolerate restrictions, especially if they seemed illogical.
He urged an ‘overriding principle … that we will only maintain those restrictions which are necessary and if there is a question over whether something is necessary or not, I think we should ere on the side of openness and trying to make sure that more people can get on with their lives and more people can get on with getting back to their jobs’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – while backing the lockdown – added to the pressure with a renewed call for the Government to set out an ‘exit strategy’ explaining how it will eventually be lifted.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will face further questions from MPs when he delivers a Commons statement on the state of the economy.
He has already had to effectively tear up his first Budget last month just days after delivering it with a series of massive bailouts designed to keep the economy afloat through the crisis.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has less then two weeks before the next major decision point comes up with the next three-week review of the lockdown restrictions due on May 7.
Mr Raab said the Government was doing its ‘homework’ in preparation for when the rules could be eased.
It is thought that amongst the first could be a re-opening of schools, although Mr Raab said that would be ‘inconceivable’ without some further measures in place.
Ministers are also thought to be considering allowing some non-essential businesses to open such as garden centres and car showrooms, provided social-distancing could be maintained.
Commuters wait to board a Jubilee line train at Canning Town station in East London this morning
Passengers stand on board a Jubilee line train before it departs Canning Town station in East London this morning
Passengers leave and board a Jubilee train at Canada Water station on the Underground in South East London this morning
Commuters walk down stairs at Canning Town station in East London today during the Monday morning commute
Mr Raab also indicated that officials were looking at possible checks at air and sea ports with passengers arriving in the UK required to quarantine for 14 days.
Such a measure could form part of the next stage of the Government’s response – the so-called ‘test, track and trace’ strategy designed to further suppress the spread of the disease by isolating new cases.
However, Government scientific and medical experts have indicated the current infection rate will have to come down further before such tactics can be effective.
In the meantime, ministers have insisted that the remain on track to meet Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month which falls on Thursday.
Mr Raab said at the weekend that the testing capacity had risen to more than 50,000 – although according to the latest official figures the numbers carried out have only reached 29,000.
Ministers will be hoping they pick up as NHS staff and other key workers return to work following the weekend.
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