UK emerges out of lockdown: Primary schools open in 'cautious' coronavirus unlocking
PIC: AFP

The UK began what the government has termed "very cautious" first steps towards unlocking the coronavirus lockdown on Monday, with primary schools welcoming back pupils within socially distanced norms.

Schools have remained open throughout the lockdown for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, but they will now welcome back millions more primary pupils.

However, many families are expected to keep children home amid fears of a second wave of the deadly virus, which has claimed over 38,000 lives in the country.

"The government is taking very cautious, tentative steps towards easing the coronavirus lockdown and the measures will continue to be reviewed," UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma said on Monday, the first day of the strict stay-at-home measures being eased across England.

"The one thing nobody wants to see is a second spike," the Indian-origin minister said.

Schools are expected to reorganise their classrooms, with lots of hand washing and other hygiene rules in place.

The first stage in the easing of restrictions since the lockdown, which was formally announced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 23, covers groups of six people being allowed to meet outside in England and outdoor markets and car showrooms being able to become operational within COVID-secure conditions.

There is a more patchy picture emerging across other parts of the United Kingdom, with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland taking their own tentative steps based on localised concerns.

In Wales, no date has been set for schools to start welcoming back all pupils and in Scotland and Northern Ireland, schools are going back only from August.

While in Wales and Scotland people from two different households can meet each other outdoors, groups of four to six people who are not in the same household can meet outdoors in Northern Ireland.

Scientists and experts, including from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) which is advising on the pandemic response, have expressed concerns over the lifting of restrictions at this stage as being too risky.

But ministers have stressed that the timing is right for a gradual easing of the lockdown, which will be further expanded from mid-June when non-essential retail and other businesses will be allowed to open up under COVID-secure rules.

"I want to reaffirm that fundamental commitment to the British people that all the steps we have taken, and will take, are conditional. They are conditional on all the data, and all the scientific advice, and it is that scientific advice which will help us to judge what we are doing is safe," Johnson had said, when he announced an unlocking from June 1 last week.

Queen rides horse in first lockdown sighting

Britain's Queen's Elizabeth II, who has been self-isolating with husband Prince Philip at Windsor Castle in south-east England during the coronavirus lockdown, has been seen outdoors for the first time riding a horse.

The 94-year-old monarch, who is a keen rider and horse lover, was pictured on a 14-year-old Fell Pony called Balmoral Fern in the sprawling grounds of her royal residence in Berkshire over the weekend

Wearing a colourful headscarf and smartly dressed in a tweed jacket, jodhpurs, white gloves and boots, the Queen can be seen in the new photographs taken by the Press Association riding to enjoy the pleasant sunny weather.

The last public picture of the Queen was taken as she was driven away from Buckingham Palace in London to the castle on March 19, days before the UK went into official lockdown on March 23 to control the transmission of the deadly virus.

She has been staying in her private apartments at the castle with a few key household staff who have been isolating with her and her 98-year-old husband.

The monarch has made two rare televised addresses to the nation during the lockdown - the first a speech to at the peak of the lockdown with a message of "we will meet again" and another on a similar theme last month to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, which marked the end of World War II.

She continues to work remotely while in lockdown and has held her weekly audience with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the telephone.

The royals have been using online communications, such as Zoom and Facetime, to stay in contact with the rest of the family, isolating in different parts of the UK.

In April, she marked her 94th birthday privately at Windsor Castle after she had cancelled all forms of public celebration amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Boris Johnson's sister defends lockdown journeys

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's sister Rachel Johnson has defended journeys between her two residences during the coronavirus lockdown because she is classified a key worker as a journalist.

The 54-year-old radio host is currently based in Somerset but drives up around 150 miles (241 km) to London regularly for her show with LBC Radio.

According to 'The Sunday Mirror', Rachel would be seen as breaking lockdown rules as she sometimes then stays behind in her London home with her sons.

"In line with the majority of broadcasters she is afforded key worker status," a spokesperson for Rachel told the newspaper.

"The show finishes at 7 pm. As it's a four-hour journey back, she sometimes stays over. In line with the guidance, she makes a concerted effort to stay alert at all times," the spokesperson said.

The newspaper report of Johnson's sister's alleged breach comes days after the UK PM's top aide Dominic Cummings dominated the headlines for a 260-mile (418 km) drive from his London home to his father's farm in Durham at the peak of the lockdown at the end of March.

Local Durham Police have since conducted an investigation into the issue and concluded that he did not commit a legal offence with that drive and termed a second shorter drive as a "minor breach". Downing Street said the UK PM, who had defended his Chief Strategy Adviser's actions as reasonable given his childcare requirements, considers the matter closed after the police probe.

"It doesn't look good for anyone. First his friend Dom and now his sister have been caught bending the rules, if not breaking them," the 'Mirror' quoted a government source as saying, as part of a report which included pictures of Rachel Johnson returning to her London residence after a round of tennis.

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