Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a statement to the House of Commons on the roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England, revealing four steps.
Johnson noted that due to the fact the Covid-19 will mutate, there is “no credible route to a Zero Covid Britain” and therefore we “cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy.” He added “that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible.”
The government is planning to ease restrictions in all areas at the same time, driven by evidence. All decisions “will be led by data not dates,” and subjected to four tests; that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; that evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths; that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; that the government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern.
Step one will happen from 8 March. Pupils and students in all schools and further education settings will return to face-to-face teaching, supported by twice-weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils.
Breakfast and afterschool clubs can also re-open – and other children’s activities, including sport, can restart where necessary to help parents to work. Students on university courses requiring practical teaching, specialist facilities or onsite assessments will also return.
From 8 March, people will also be able to meet one person from outside their household for outdoor recreation – such as a coffee on a bench or a picnic in a park – in addition to exercise. Every care home resident will be able to nominate a named visitor, able to see them regularly provided they are tested and wear PPE.
As part of Step one, the government will also make limited changes on 29 March, when schools go on Easter holidays. It will become possible to meet in limited numbers outdoors, where the risk is lower. The Rule of Six will return outdoors, including in private gardens and outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted on the same basis, so that families in different circumstances can meet.
Outdoor sports facilities – such as tennis and basketball courts, and open-air swimming pools – will be able to reopen and formally organised outdoor sports will resume, subject to guidance.
From this point, 29 March, people will no longer be legally required to stay at home but many lockdown restrictions will remain. People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel wherever possible.
Step two will begin at least five weeks after the beginning of step one and no earlier than 12 April, with an announcement at least seven days in advance.
In step two non-essential retail will reopen, as will personal care including hairdressers and nail salons. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will re-open, as will holiday-lets, but only for use by individuals or household groups.
Pubs and restaurants will also begin to reopen outdoors with no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal. Zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas will reopen, as will public libraries and community centres.
Step three will begin no earlier than 17 May. Most restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, subject to a limit of thirty. This is also the point friends and family can meet indoors – subject to the Rule of Six or the meeting of two households.
Pubs and restaurants will be reopened indoors, along with cinemas and children’s play areas, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs. Theatres and concert halls will open, and sports stadia, subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue.
Step 4 will begin no earlier than 21 June, with the aim to remove all legal limits on social contact, and on weddings and other life events. Everything up to and including nightclubs, will be reopened.
Johnson added that reviews will assess how long we need to maintain social distancing and face masks, which will also inform guidance on working from home.
A second review will consider the resumption of international travel, which is vital for many businesses which have been hardest hit including retail, hospitality, tourism and aviation. A successor to the Global Travel Taskforce will report by 12 April so that people can plan for the summer.
The third review will consider the potential role of Covid-status certification in helping venues to open safely but mindful of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy.
And the fourth review will look at the safe return of major events.
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Development Manager Natalie Gasson-McKinley said: “This road map provides some much-needed clarity for small businesses in England, which have faced an incredibly tough year. The Government’s commitment to helping small firms and sole traders access testing and its recognition of the plight faced by suppliers are welcome.
“It’s important for this plan to protect against a fourth Covid wave and accompanying lockdown, the imposition of which would be devastating for the 250,000 firms that fear closure this year. Small businesses are clear that recovery depends on an accelerating vaccine programme, access to an improved testing infrastructure for firms of all sizes, the safe return of schools, and the right safety measures within businesses.
“The Chancellor must deliver on the Prime Minister’s “whatever it takes” pledge at next week’s Budget. On one side of the coin we have continued restrictions – on the other, we need corresponding business support.
“Whatever it takes means bringing those overlooked by current support measures into the fold, including suppliers, directors and the newly self-employed. Upwards of a million small business owners and sole traders are currently receiving no direct help whatsoever.
“Extension of business rates reliefs and measures to mitigate the burden of emergency debt will provide small firms with some urgently-needed breathing space as they fight to make it through to the summer.
“Fundamentally, the implementation of, and deadlines for, business support measures need to reflect this road map to avoid forcing the great businesses of tomorrow under before they’ve had a chance to realise their potential.”
Simon Beardsley, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is helpful that many businesses in Lincolnshire and across the country can now see a path to restart and recover. We will continue to call for absolute clarity and honesty every step of the way over the weeks ahead, so that businesses have a fighting chance to rebuild. The stop-start and drip-feed dynamic of the past year has been so damaging for our business community and we must see that come to an end.
“Even with the new roadmap, the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs by a thread as many hard-hit businesses simply don’t have the cash reserves needed to hold out several more months before they are allowed to reopen.
“Businesses will hold the Prime Minister to his pledge to support organisations for the duration of the pandemic, as we start to see light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses have haemorrhaged billions of pounds over the past year and need action now.
“We will continue to lobby to see that all the key support schemes for business should be extended – through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 – to ensure that as many viable organisations as possible can make it to the end of this pandemic and on the road to recovery.”