People will only be allowed to meet one of their parents after the lockdown is eased, the government says in an embarrassing U-turn.
Moments after Dominic Raab suggested it would be possible to meet two people in some circumstances – provided it was in a park, at two metres apart – the public has been told that advice was wrong.
The U-turn comes amid further confusion over the date when staff will be urged to go back to work if they can and whether some pubs could reopen from July.
On Sunday, Downing Street provoked fears of people being forced to ‘pick a parent’, if the relaxation, from Wednesday, allowed them to meet only one other person from another household.
Mr Raab, asked if someone could meet up with both their parents in a park, told BBC Radio 4: “Well, you could if there’s two metres apart.”
But a government source quickly withdrew the statement, telling The Independent: “They can see both parents, but not at the same time – they would have to see them individually.”
The episode is certain to increase criticism that Boris Johnson, in his determination to make a primetime TV address before full details were published, further muddied the government’s message.
At one point, Mr Raab said ministers recognised that “people want to get outdoors” – even as Scotland and Wales insist on retaining their ‘Stay Home’ message.
“If you’re out in the park and you’re two metres apart, we’re saying now, and use some common sense and you socially distance, you can meet up with other people,” the foreign secretary said.
“The key thing is people want to get outdoors, particularly with this weather, particularly I think for mental health and, frankly, the frustration people feel if they’re cooped up for too long for protracted periods.”
Mr Raab also sparked further confusion about the controversial instruction for staff to return to work from today if possible – saying it would now come in on Wednesday.
He also referred only to people working “in construction and manufacturing” returning, with guidance on creating secure workplaces not to be published until Tuesday.
One of the biggest overnight criticisms of the TV address was that it gave workers only 12 hours to potentially prepare to return, with public transport largely shut down.
Labour continued to criticise the chaotic messages being sent out to worried workers. Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said: “People should be able to work in safety.
“People shouldn’t be in the uncertain position that they are today. Certainty helps workers, it helps employers. And that’s what the government should actually be providing.”
Mr Raab ducked repeated questions about whether workers had the right to walk out if they believed they were in unsafe conditions, saying: “It’s very difficult to answer that.”
On Sunday, the prime minister said: “We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.”
But the government is now downplaying any significant change, saying the workers affected can already go to work under existing rules.