Concern and anger over ‘ambiguous’ Stay Alert slogan

Opposition parties have voiced concern about the “ambivalence” and “ambiguity” of a new government coronavirus public information slogan that replaces the ‘Stay Home’ message with ‘Stay Alert’.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford dismissed the new slogan as “mixed messages and muddled thinking” and Nicola Sturgeon said the Stay Home message would

be retained in Scotland.

It comes ahead of a nationwide broadcast by Boris Johnson this evening that will set out the UK Government’s strategy for easing social distancing measures, with the Prime Minister announcing a new five-step alert system on the risk posed by coronavirus.

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The new slogan - ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’ - was revealed in Sunday newspapers as the UK Government seeks to encourage more employees to go to work and restart the economy.

Branding that included red ‘danger’ stripes around the slogan has been exchanged for green.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the new slogan risks ambiguity.

"We need absolute clarity from Boris Johnson,” Mr Ashworth said. “There's no room for nuance in this.

"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? What are the government saying with that?'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.Picture: Jessica Taylor/PA WirePrime Minister Boris Johnson.Picture: Jessica Taylor/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson.Picture: Jessica Taylor/PA Wire | PA (Press Association)

"So I hope that Boris Johnson will offer us that crystal-clear clarity tonight that is desperately needed."

Mr Johnson has since clarified the new slogan, posting an image on his twitter feed that calls on the public to "stay at home as much as possible", "work from home if you can", "limit contact with other people", "keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)", and "wash your hands regularly".

The Prime Minister added: "Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus by staying alert and following the rules.

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"This is how we can continue to save lives as we start to recover from coronavirus."

After police in East London said they were fighting a “losing battle” against people who crowded parks over the sunny bank holiday weekend, Mr Ashworth added that newspaper briefings from government sources had led to more people flouting the lockdown rules.

Speaking to Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: "The frustration is that we had different briefings to different newspapers throughout the week.

"I think some of those briefings to newspapers has led to the situation yesterday and on Friday of lots of people going to parks, enjoying the sunshine. We have seen an increase in road traffic and I think we have seen more coastguard call outs than at any other point during the lockdown.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick was challenged in morning television interviews over the new slogan, insisting that staying home would remain an "important part of the message" in England as well as Scotland and Wales.

"We would like the whole of the United Kingdom to move as one, that's our strong preference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

"Staying at home will still be an important part of the message. We want people to stay at home as much as possible."

Mr Jenrick added: "Stay alert will mean stay alert by staying home as much as possible.

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"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."

But the new messaging came in for strong criticism from the SNP, with Mr Blackford writing in a series of tweets: “What kind of buffoon thinks of this kind of nonsense. [Coronavirus] is an invisible threat. Staying alert is not the answer.

“After his behaviour Robert Jenrick should have been gone from office, never mind being used by 10 Downing Street to tell the rest of us how to behave. It is simply not good enough.”

The slogan was defended by Scottish Conservative MP Andrew Bowie, who said it was “absolutely legitimate for the First Minister to decide that the new slogan will not apply in Scotland” but criticised what he claimed were “unhelpful and downright disrespectful” attacks by SNP MPs.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling also hit out, saying: "Is Coronavirus sneaking around in a fake moustache and glasses? If we drop our guard, will it slip us a Micky Finn? What the hell is 'stay alert' supposed to mean?"

Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, tweeted that it "feels to me like a mistake to me to drop the clear" stay at home message.

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 added: "Stay alert? It's a deadly virus not a zebra crossing."

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A 50-page document setting out the UK Government’s full guidance will be published on Monday, with Mr Johnson setting out an alert system similar to the official terror threat level, branded from green in level one to red in level five..

The Prime Minister will outline his "road map" to a new normality during his address at 7pm this evening.

He will urge workers who cannot do their jobs from home to begin returning to their workplaces while following social-distancing rules.

"This is the dangerous bit," he warned ahead of the announcement.

It is understood that a warning system administered by a new "joint biosecurity centre" will detect local increases in infection rates, with the view to locally alter restrictions in England.

With the alerts ranging from green in level one to red in level five, Mr Johnson is expected to say the nation is close to moving down from four to three.

The PM will chair a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee with Cabinet ministers, leaders of the devolved nations and London Mayor Sadiq Khan before his pre-recorded address.

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