NEWS
11/05/2020 8:15 AM AEST

Boris Johnson Announces New 'Stay Alert' Coronavirus Strategy Amid Backlash Over Slogan

Nicola Sturgeon and Arlene Foster have both since rejected the use of the new instructions.

PA / Sky News
The government's new "stay alert, control the virus, save lives" slogan.

See the latest stories on the coronavirus outbreak.  

Boris Johnson has released more details on the government’s new “stay home, control the virus” amid calls for clarity on the softer new approach. 

But with the UK still recording the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, politicians and members of the public alike have heavily criticised the softer approach. 

Johnson will address the public via a televised statement at 7pm on Sunday evening, during which he will set out a “road map” for a gradual relaxation of the nation-wide lockdown. 

Sharing the new slogan in a tweet, the PM wrote: “Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus and following the rules. 

“This is how we can continue to save lives as we start to recover from coronavirus. #StayAlert” 

His message was accompanied by a new image, which sets out the new “stay alert” approach. 

While much of the messaging remains consistent with government advice shared alongside the now-familiar “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” slogan, the new information published by the PM on Sunday states the public should “stay alert” and “stay at home as much as possible”. 

For the past seven weeks, the message has been that the general public should leave home for just one of four specific reasons; shopping for basic necessities, one form of exercise, any medical need, or travelling to work when you can’t work from home. 

In a near-identical message to the one shared online by the PM, a Downing Street spokesperson said the public can stay alert by “staying at home as much as possible”, “limiting contact with other people” and keeping two metres apart where possible.

“We can control the virus by keeping the rate of infection (R) and the number of infections down,” they added. 

“This is how we can continue to save lives and livelihoods as we start to recover from coronavirus.

“Everyone has a role to play in keeping the rate of infection (R) down by staying alert and following the rules.”

The emergence of the new slogan, which first emerged when it was unveiled on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph, has been met with significant backlash, with the leaders of Scotland and Northern Ireland both publicly stating their rejection of the message. 

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote: “The Sunday papers is the first I’ve seen of the PM’s new slogan. 

“It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage.” 

Almost 31,600 people have now died in the UK after contracting coronavirus – with 1,847 deaths recorded in Scotland. 

Reinforcing her message, Sturgeon tweeted the old slogan, “STAY HOME. PROTECT THE NHS. SAVE LIVES” hours later. 

Northern Ireland’s first minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster also rejected the new slogan, telling BBC Northern Ireland: “On the whole, the message is to stay at home. We will say we are not deviating from the message at this time.”

Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill also tweeted an image of the current messaging on Sunday morning, with the “stay at home” slogan featured.

The governments communities secretary Robert Jenrick said he hoped that all four nations would agree to the same approach when the PM convenes leaders for a Cobra meeting on Sunday afternoon.

“We hope that they will agree to a consistent approach across the country, that’s our strong preference,” Jenrick told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

But he struggled to concisely explain exactly what the new advice means, when questioned on the BBC.

“Stay alert will mean stay alert by staying home as much as possible,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.

“But stay alert when you do go out by maintaining social distancing, washing your hands, respecting others in the workplace and the other settings that you will go to.”

Jenrick insisted “we’re not going to take risks with the public” but said “we want now to have a message which encourages people to go to work”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the PM to give “crystal-clear clarity” on how the public must behave amid concerns that the lockdown is in jeopardy.

“We need absolute clarity from Boris Johnson. There’s no room for nuance in this,” the Labour MP told Ridge.

“This virus exploits ambivalence, it thrives on ambiguity, and I think the problem with the slogan that has been briefed to the newspapers is people will be looking slightly puzzled, questioning ‘What does it mean to stay alert?’”

Outside of politics, the new slogan has also been met with significant backlash – with many people making their own changes to the new graphic. 

One Twitter user likened it to a slogan dreamt up on an episode of the Apprentice, while author Irvine Welsh took a picture of the scene outside his window, writing: “I think I spotted some Covid-19 hanging around in the street outside, but I’m not sure. Should I call the authorities? #StayAlert.” 

Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said: “The messaging from this Government throughout this crisis has been a total joke, but their new slogan takes it to a new level.”

He wondered: “Stay alert? It’s a deadly virus not a zebra crossing.”

Comedian and former junior doctor Adam Kay joked that it would be “difficult to stay alert to something that’s 0.0001 millimetres in diameter. This pandemic is going to have as many spikes as a coronavirus”.

Junior doctor Julia Simons tweeted: “Please can someone tell Boris coronavirus is not a physical assailant? You can’t stay alert to single-stranded RNA.”