Seven weeks after the UK entered lockdown, Boris Johnson has announced the first relaxation of the rules.
From Wednesday the public will be allowed to do unlimited daily exercise, drive for country walks, sunbathe and play sport with members of their own household.
Mr Johnson’s changes, which only apply to England, leave the UK divided on its lockdown strategy.
And his decision to downgrade the Government’s “stay at home, save lives” slogan – asking the public in England to “stay alert” instead and to begin returning to work if safe – has been condemned.
It has been branded confusing and potentially “catastrophic”.
"The Prime Minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.
“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”
The announcement came as the official number of deaths in the UK rose by 269 to 31,855.
The leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland rejected the new “stay alert” advice, saying they were not consulted and would be making only minor tweaks instead.
After a COBRA meeting with the PM, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that the “vague and imprecise” slogan could have “catastrophic” consequences.
Behavioural expert Professor Susan Michie, of the SAGE group of scientists, said the new slogan was “a long way from” being clear and consistent.
She added: “[It] may be taken as a green light by many to not stay at home, and begin socialising with friends and other activities that increase the risk of transmission.”
In his televised address last night, Mr Johnson announced a “change in emphasis” – rather than strictly a change in the rules – for who should and shouldn’t be at work.
He said: “Anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.
"Work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.”
He said the Government is establishing guidance for firms to make workplaces safe. But he did not say when it would be published.
There were glaring omissions in the PM’s statement, including any details on when the public would be able to see family and friends again.
Nor was there any specific updated advice for the over-70s or the 1.5 million people shielding because they have underlying health conditions.
Many of them fear the Government is considering “cocooning” them for months while the rest of the country gets back to normal.
In his pre-recorded speech, Mr Johnson outlined his “roadmap” to a new normality, with a five-stage warning system to track the outbreak.
The PM said social distancing rules of staying two metres apart remain in place and if people don’t obey them they face increased fines up to ￡3,200.
The Government will today publish a 50-page document outlining the full details of the plan to restart the economy.
The next step, as reported by the Mirror last week, will be pupils returning to primary school after half-term at the earliest, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6. Nurseries could also return. There may then be a phased reopening of non-essential shops.
Following that, ministers are hoping that the pupils sitting GCSEs and A-levels could also return to school before the summer holidays.
Cafes in parks and restaurants with outdoor space – but not pubs – could reopen from July at the earliest.
Places of worship, cinemas, as well as other public places, could also reopen. Mr Johnson said: “If there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes.
“We have been through the initial peak. But it’s coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous.
“If we can’t do it by those dates, and if the alert level won’t allow it, we will wait and go on until we’ve got it right.”
He gave the impression last week that lockdown would start to be lifted from today.
He then came under pressure to maintain it until June at least after he was warned outbreaks in care homes and hospitals made significant easing any sooner too dangerous.
Amid the confusion over lifting the measures, the public visited parks and beaches over the Bank Holiday weekend, as well as holding street parties to celebrate VE Day on Friday.
Scientific advisers to the Government had warned that the UK could still suffer more than 100,000 deaths by the end of the year if measures are hastily relaxed.
An unnamed government adviser said: “There is very limited room for manoeuvre.”
Figures suggest the UK death toll may be 36,800, around 5,000 higher than the official number.