Traffic on Britain’s roads is on the rise for the first time since the lockdown began with levels increasing by up to 10 per cent compared to earlier this month as the country edges back to work and shops, building sites and factories reopen.
Figures from the AA show show more car journeys than at any point over the past few weeks in a further sign the struggling economy is slowly restarting after the UK first entered coronavirus restrictions at the end of March.
The numbers of cars on London’s roads is steadily rising as photographs of the A40 at Hangar Lane at rush hour this morning showed more motorists on their way to work, with similar scenes on the M3 and M4 and the Severn Bridge.
The AA data, which looked car usage by 15,000 motorists with a tracker in their vehicle, showed an average of 0.4 journeys per car on weekdays at the start of this month. Average car trips increased to 0.46 earlier this week and reached 0.47 on Wednesday, the highest total since mid-March.
The rise in traffic use also correlate with AA breakdown statistics, with previous weeks seeing 6,000 breakdowns a day – but this week that number hit 8,000.
The data emerged as Britons continued to flout lockdown rules by packing out beaches and parks across the UK as temperatures hit 68F in another sign that the country is seemingly no longer willing to comply with government instructions to stay indoors.
Today homebuilder Persimmon announced it is to restart operations on its sites, following Taylor Wimpey and rival Vistry Group which said it will be re-starting next week, while luxury car maker Aston Martin Lagonda also plans to restart operations.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today welcomed the move by firms to get people back to work – but insisted those that have reopened ‘were never required to close’.
The retail sector has been given a boost yesterday as B&Q reopened 155 stores across the country for customers to browse through the shop, triggering huge queues outside. Some of Britain’s favourite food outlets have also seen a surge in demand after reopening a small number of branches for delivery or takeaways.
Crowds gathered outside a Five Guys restaurant at Edinburgh’s Fountain Park waiting for takeaway orders and last night police were seen attending a large queue outside a MEATliquor burger bar in south east London. Pret-a-Manger has also reopened ten outlets. Six Nando’s have also reopened – but only for frontline health workers. The restaurants will provide up to 1,700 free meals a day to NHS employees.
AA President Edmund King said: ‘Most drivers are still following Government advice to only make essential journeys by car, however, this week we have seen traffic and breakdowns creeping back up.
Traffic can be seen on the A40 by Hanger Lane in West London during rush hour this morning. As the country enters it’s second month of the government imposed lockdown to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, there is a steady rise in the number of people using the roads and returning to work
The A40 by Hangar Lane in west London this morning. According to the AA traffic is up by 10% compared to earlier this month
Figures from the AA show show more car journeys than at any point over the past few weeks in a sign the economy is slowly restarting after the UK first entered coronavirus restrictions at the end of March
Traffic cameras on the M4 showed a clear increase in traffic levels this morning in a further sign that Britain is edging back to work
More cars could also be seen on the M3 today compared with the beginning of lockdown restrictions
More cars were also on the Severn Bridge today as the number of vehicles taking to Britain’s roads started increasing
‘It is a worry that some drivers seem to have got bored being locked up at home and are now venturing out in their cars. Breakdowns have increased by about 20% this week and traffic seems to be 10% higher than under earlier lockdown conditions.
‘It is important to cut out non-essential travel as one crash can tie up the emergency services for hours and may also result in a precious NHS hospital bed being taken.
‘The message is still to stay home and help to save lives. We also urge drivers to stick to the speed limits as a minority of drivers have been treating the roads as race tracks.
Meanwhile, figures from Google’s mobility report show people are heading out more to visit shops, parks and beaches.
Between February 16 and March 29, visits to retail and recreation locations, such as restaurants, shopping centres and galleries dropped by 85 per cent.
But by the end of last week, this was up by 10% to 75% below their normal level. Visits to parks and beaches are up by 19 percentage points to 33 per cent below usual figures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today welcomed the move by firms to get people back to work – but insisted those that have reopeend ‘were never required to close’.
Last night police were seen attending a large queue outside a MEATliquor burger bar in the latest scene from a country seemingly no longer willing to comply with government instructions to stay indoors
People queue outside a B&Q in Warrington, Cheshire after the DIY chain announced it was reopening its stores
Long queues of shoppers outside B&Q in Sutton Ashfield, Nottinghamshire
He told Sky News: ‘The things that are restarting are things that we never required to close in the first place, but what the companies have been doing is working out how they can have safe working following the social distancing rules whilst people are at work.
‘Throughout we’ve allowed hardware stores to stay open, and the construction industry, but what businesses have been doing is taking the last couple of weeks to work out how do you stay open and stay within the social-distancing rules at work?’
‘So it’s absolutely fine for those businesses to stay open because they were never required to close by the social-distancing rules.’
Britons today continued to ignore lockdown rules by flocking to parks, beaches and promenades to bask in the despite the possibility of strong fines for breaching the rules.
Queues outside B&Q in Darnley outside Glasgow. Shoppers have been visiting their stores after the firm announced they would be reopening
More customers queued outside this B&Q branch in Hartcliffe, Bristol today
In Roath Park in Cardiff Covidiots set up their own outdoor gym, bringing kettle bells, resistance bands and even took down safety tape off park gear for the group workout – against safety advice.
Passer-by Diane Howard said: ‘It is just ridiculous. They are in a big group and using the equipment even though it’s been taped off. I even saw guys running together with resistance bands – and even wrestling on the grass.’
Police chief slams advice on exercise rules as hundreds flout guidance to enjoy 68F temperatures
The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Shawn Sawyervhas slammed tjhe National Police Chief’s Council over its advice on exercise rules.
It has published that it is reasonable to ‘drive to the countryside and walk (where far more time is spent walking than driving)’.
But he said: ‘The National Police Chiefs’ guidance which I think is some of the poorest guidance I have seen for a long time sadly, would allow people from outside the force access to come in, the very thing that our communities don’t want.’
But as the sun shone over the last few days, hundreds of people were ignoring the plea to stay at home – and the risk of £60 fines.
Hundreds of people were seen on Preston beach at Paignton, Devon, playing in the sand and sunbathing.
One member of the public said: ‘There are whole families down here with young kids digging in the sand. They are acting more like a day out than mandated exercise.
‘There are well over 100 people on the beach. Some are walking, some are sitting around or playing in the sea.’
Coastguards have also criticised the people heading to beaches and surfers.
Falmouth based coastguard Paddy Cochrane said in the last 24-48 hours there had been a ‘large number of water users’ on the north and south coasts’.
Photos also showed a packed seafront in Hove, East Sussex.
The snap, taken last night, showed people sitting on benches enjoying ice cream and group gatherings after temperatures soared to 23C.
Eyewitness Ben Maughan, 34, said: ‘It was just absolutely packed. I usually go out for my evening run but it just wasn’t safe.
‘The police just weren’t doing anything and that was the shocking thing.
‘Usually they have been telling people sitting on a bench to move on or putting out BBQs. Just actual policing.
‘But they were just driving by on what looked like an ordinary Thursday summer’s day.
‘Even the ice cream shop had reopened. It was as though lockdown had been lifted.’
Mr Hancock today reiterated that the UK could not yet ease restrictions.
He said: ‘The truth is, it’s still too soon, safely, to change those measures. Although the number of people who died yesterday was lower, it was still over 600, so it’s still too high.
‘I just urge people to continue sticking to those rules, because it’s working and we’re flattening that curve but we need to see it coming down’
Builders were returning to construction sites and roads are visibly busier than a week ago.
Homebuilder Taylor Wimpey said construction would resume on May 4 and rival Vistry Group said it will re-start next week.
Today housebuilder Persimmon followed their lead and said it is to begin a ‘phased re-opening’ of its sites from Monday April 27 to help complete new homes under construction.
Persimmon shut down its construction sites, sales offices and moved non-site staff to work from home on March 25.
David Jenkinson, chief executive officer of Persimmon, said: ‘The UK Government has been very clear on the importance of the construction sector to the UK economy and its desire to see activity continue through the current period of crisis, provided appropriate public health measures are adopted.
‘Nothing is more important to us than the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, our colleagues, sub-contractors and suppliers.
In Roath Park in Cardiff Covidiots set up their own outdoor gym, bringing kettle bells, resistance bands and even took down safety tape off park gear for the group workout – against safety advice
One man can be seen lifting kettle bells and in Roath Park in Cardiff today. Passer-by Diane Howard said: ‘It is just ridiculous. They are in a big group and using the equipment even though it’s been taped off’
Hundreds of people were seen strolling along the Hove seafront in East Sussex last night, flouting the state-recommended 6ft social distancing guidelines
‘Having spent the last month developing and testing new site protocols that incorporate the necessary social distancing and protective measures, we believe that we are now able to return to site safely and support the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.’
Luxury car-maker Aston Martin Lagonda is also set to reopen its factory in south Wales on May 5 – and car giant Jaguar Land Rover will gradually resume production at two of its UK plants next month amid ‘robust’ guidelines to support a return to work.
Guernsey is set to be the first place in Britain to partially lift lockdown as gardeners, estate agents and builders return to work.
It comes as the Government is said to be considering staggering workers’ start times to avoid the rush-hour bottlenecks when the majority of Britons head back to the office – possibly at some point next month.
The possible strategy on getting London back on the move follows Mayor Sadiq Khan warning Transport for London has about a week’s worth of cash to keep itself running, and militant RMT union chiefs saying there is ‘zero chance’ of their members getting back on the buses and trains without personal protective equipment (PPE).
Tory MPs have warned the Government it must spell out in detail how it intends to ease the lockdown to give businesses hope of survival, with senior backbenchers on the 1922 Committee meeting to discuss the response.
They said it is ‘silly’ for ministers not to be totally frank with the public given how well most of the population has stuck to social distancing measures and stressed ‘there has got to be an economy to go back to’ as they sounded a warning which will be heard loud and clear in Downing Street .
However, in a sign tensions are likely to rise, Dominic Raab said last night it will be weeks before ministers even ‘think about’ putting forward an exit strategy while Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said some restrictions are likely to be in place for the ‘next calendar year’.
Shoppers line up outside a B&Q store at Sutton In Ashfield in Nottinghamshire yesterday after the DIY store opened its doors
Crowds gather outside a Five Guys branch at Fountain Park in Edinburgh at about 7pm on Wednesday waiting for takeaway orders
Schools could start returning within less than three weeks under a ‘traffic light’ plan being pushed by senior ministers to ease lockdown misery – amid Cabinet splits over whether the government should risk more deaths from the disease to save the plunging economy.
Builders failed to properly socially distance at one site in London today, where about 50 had temperature checks before being allowed into No. 1 Palace Street where 72 luxury flats are being built near Buckingham Palace.
Which companies have announced that they are re-opening?
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 next week
Persimmon: Housebuilder is to begin a ‘phased re-opening’ of its sites from Monday April 27
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
Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the unprecedented lockdown on March 23 to deal with the pandemic as people were ordered to ‘stay at home’. On April 16 this was extended for at least another three weeks until May 7.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Hancock lost his cool as he was grilled over the UK government’s failure to set out its strategy for easing the coronavirus lockdown.
Calls for Downing Street to be frank with the nation have increased after Nicola Sturgeon set out her own plan for Scotland yesterday while Wales is doing the same today and Northern Ireland has signalled it could follow suit.
Mr Hancock and other senior ministers have so far refused to budge on the issue, insisting the focus must remain on slowing the spread of the disease.
But furious Tory MPs have demanded the government ‘bite the bullet’ and set out its strategy to give businesses hope that measures could soon be lifted.
The Health Secretary was asked this morning during a bruising interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why the UK government is refusing to spell out how it will ease restrictions.
But he claimed ministers had ‘released a framework’ as he referred to the government’s five tests which need to be met before lockdown can be reduced. Those tests include a guarantee there will not be second peak of the outbreak.
Construction employees are pictured working on a building site yesterday in Lewisham, South East London
Pedestrians and shoppers are seen walking by market stalls on Electric Avenue in Brixton, south London for a spot of shopping yesterday
People flock to a busy promenade in Bournemouth on one of the UK’s hottest days in the year yesterday as temperatures soar to 75F (23C)
But presenter Mishal Husain interrupted and told the Health Secretary: ‘You know that is different. We know about your five tests.’
An angry Mr Hancock then hit back and said: ‘It is not different. It is not different because if you read the Scottish document it is essentially a reiteration broadly of those five tests.’
Mr Hancock had lost his cool earlier in the crisis on April 16 on the same subject of lockdown when he insisted the public could not be trusted with an exit strategy because they might stop obeying lockdown rules.
Senior Conservative figures believe there is currently ‘no leadership’ without Boris Johnson who is believed to be targeting a return to work on Monday next week.
The Prime Minister was released from hospital on April 12 following his intensive care battle with coronavirus and he has been recuperating at Chequers since then.
Allies believe the premier is ‘determined’ to return after the weekend and those theories were boosted this morning as Mr Hancock said the PM is on ‘very good form and is clearly recovering’.
Meanwhile, last night Donald Trump said Mr Johnson had been ‘sharp and energetic’ in a phone call on Tuesday.
Mr Hancock said this morning the easing of restrictions would largely be determined by how quickly new cases of coronavirus fall.
He said: ‘It depends on how fast the number of new cases falls now that we are at the peak… and if as and when they do then the speed with which the number of new cases reduces frankly will determine how long we need to keep the measures on. That is as yet unknowable.’
He said he did not have a ‘problem in principle’ with Ms Sturgeon setting out her own plan but he added ‘it is too soon to make the changes’ as he also made the case for the UK to continue to act ‘as one’.
‘My preference is that we work together as one country,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘I think that is where the public has been during this but I also respect the responsibilities that my devolved colleagues have got.’
The issue of when the UK’s lockdown can be lifted is now largely dominating the coronavirus crisis with the government facing increasing political pressure to set out its plans.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian: ‘The UK government now needs to recognise that the time is now. They need to bite the bullet and do it.’
He told The Times: ‘The government needs now to explain to the British public that they are planning for the time when we come out of lockdown.
‘We must trust the British public to understand how this will happen. The Scottish administration is right. I want the UK government to be doing the same.’
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said it would be ‘entirely sensible’ for the government to set out ‘what can and can’t be done’.
Ms Sturgeon yesterday published her own blueprint for how to lift restrictions as she said businesses could reopen if they strictly adhere to social distancing measures.
She also said schools could return, potentially with redesigned classrooms so that pupils can stay at least two metres away from each other.
Meanwhile, Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, said on Wednesday night the country could ease restrictions before the rest of the UK.