UK police are on heightened alert as they prepare for anti-lockdown protest rallies in more than 60 towns and cities across the country slated for this weekend, The Times reports.
The newspaper quoted Craig Guildford, chief constable of the Nottinghamshire county police, as saying on Friday that "we are aware of the social media coverage, which includes Southampton, London, and Cardiff; we are planning, as a contingency, with our partners in the city council as we monitor the situation".
He was referring to posters that were earlier widely shared on social media and which urged people to join the "largest mass gatherings since the lockdown", in what has forced the police to brace for possible large-scale unrest over the country's confinement rules introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guildford's statement followed The Guardian citing an unnamed spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police as saying that they have "patrol plans in place throughout the area to respond to these protests if required".
The rallies are also expected in cities such as Manchester and Leicester, with relevant flyers reportedly produced by the so-called "UK Freedom Movement" group which supposedly calls for saying "no to the new normal and no to the unlawful lockdown". Additionally, the group allegedly calls on people to oppose "mandatory [coronavirus] vaccines".
Johnson Unveils Roadmap to Ease UK COVID-19 Lockdown
The developments come after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last Sunday the easing of some of the social distancing rules imposed by the government in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit Britain.
Johnson explained that the government plans to lift the lockdown measures, but stressed that it will be on a conditional basis. According to him, there will be five COVID-19 alert levels that will mostly depend on the speed at which the virus spreads at any given moment. The PM indicated that the UK is currently at level four and is moving towards level three, but that the country is definitely not ready for a total lifting of the quarantine.
Johnson also announced the first changes to the lives of citizens in terms of the lockdown, underscoring a shift from the "stay at home" message to "stay alert". He revealed that all those employees who are unable to do their job from home are now "encouraged" to go back to work.
The roadmap was criticised by the leaders of major UK opposition parties who, in particular, claimed that Johnson lacks a clear-cut vision of how to lift the lockdown.
"The prime minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear 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", Labour leader Keir Starmer asserted.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for her part, noted that Johnson only speaks for England when it comes to easing the lockdown. "If you live in Scotland you should listen to what I'm saying. In England, it is the prime minister", she told the Good Morning Britain programme late last week.
The remarks were preceded by Johnson pledging in late April to deliver a "comprehensive plan" on how to effectively ease the lockdown after declaring that the UK had passed the peak of the coronavirus flare-up. The PM made the remarks at his first Downing Street press conference after recovering from COVID-19 earlier that month.
As of Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Britain has climbed to 233,155, with fatalities standing at 33,614, according to the World Health Organisation's situation report.