The British government is expected to unveil plans to ease the country out of lockdown this week, amid indications of a phased approach to keep infection rates low.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country was “past the peak” of the outbreak and will outline a “roadmap” for lifting stringent measures imposed in late March.
According to the latest figures, 28,131 have died in Britain, just short of Europe’s worst-hit country, Italy. But hospital admissions and infection rates are down.
Johnson himself contracted COVID-19 and spent three nights in intensive care. He revealed in a Sunday newspaper interview plans were put in place in case he died.
“It was a tough old moment, I won’t deny it,” he told the Sun on Sunday. “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario,” he added.
Asked about the government’s plan, as ministers review the lockdown on Thursday, transport minister Grant Shapps said: “It’s definitely not going to be business as usual.”
Weekend newspaper reports said primary schools could reopen in early June and that commuters taking public transport could face temperature checks.
A quarantine period for people travelling to Britain by air has also been suggested. Shapps said it was a “serious point under consideration”.
“I’m actively looking at this issue right now, so when we have infection rates under control within the country we’re not importing,” he told BBC television.
Britain ordered all non-essential shops and services to close on March 23, told people to stay at home except to shop for groceries and medicines and to exercise once a day.
The measures, which were extended on April 16, have hit the economy, with the Bank of England warning it could lead to the worst recession in centuries.
But an Opinion poll for the weekly Observer newspaper indicated widespread public support for continuing the restrictions.
Fewer than one in five believed it was the right time to consider reopening schools, restaurants, pubs and sports stadiums.
Concerns have been expressed about how to maintain social distancing guidelines by young children, and also over-crowding on public transport.
Johnson has said the use of face masks could be “useful” as the country re-opens.
Cross-Channel train operator Eurostar on Saturday said face masks covering the mouth and nose would be compulsory on services between London, Paris and Brussels from Monday.
Britain is banking on an enhanced testing regime and contact tracing, including via a smartphone app, to monitor transmission rates and prevent a second wave of infection.