A four-step roadmap to take England out of its COVID-19 lockdown has been set out by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Since January 4, the country has been in complete national lockdown after a new, more transmissible coronavirus strain was discovered in southeast England.
At a media conference, Mr Johnson said England was “now travelling on a one-way road to freedom,” the BBC reports.
“Nearly a year after this pandemic began, this unparalleled national effort has decisively shifted the odds in our favour,” said Mr. Johnson.
“We no longer have to rely simply on lockdowns.”
All being well, the government of Mr. Johnson is confident that much of the economy will be able to open up by the end of June.
As he announced the plan, the Prime Minister emphasized that “data not dates,” would decide the four steps, and stressed that they would be subject to change.
Officials of Downing Street were keen to explain that this caution was to prevent potential limitations that would further damage the economy. “There is … no credible route to a Zero COVID Britain or indeed a Zero COVID World and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children,” Mr. Johnson saii chances.
“This roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible.”
Mr Johnson told MPs that on March 8, step one will begin, as schools finally reopen across England, as well as the return of limited social outside contact, such as sitting with one other person on a park bench. On March 29, Step One will also have a second phase where additional restrictions will be removed, allowing groups of six to meet outside and two households to mix.
According to the prime minister, the lifting of the measures would take place with a minimum delay of five weeks, giving the government four weeks to obtain the necessary data and one week to warn the public and the sectors concerned.
With more than 120,000 deaths, Britain has had Europe’s worst coronavirus epidemic.
Britain has spent most of the winter under a tight lockdown, faced with a dominant virus variant that scientists claim is both more transmissible and more lethal than the initial virus.
Four primary assessments will set the pace at which England will exit the lockdown: how the vaccine is carried out; how vaccines impact hospitalizations and deaths; how infection rates remain low; and how new variations do not weaken the other three requirements.
Move two will see the return of non-essential retail shops, such as hairdressers, gyms, museums, zoos and theme parks, which will happen no earlier than April 12. For indoor events, social interaction rules will remain in effect, meaning that only members of their own household will engage in them.
Crucially, at this stage, the hospitality sector would also be able to reopen. Pubs and restaurants will only be permitted outside, however, to accommodate groups of six or two families. After intense criticism last summer, Downing Street said there would be no curfews or limits on what clients would be able to order.
Step three, which will be in effect no earlier than 17 May, will drop much of the guidelines for social distancing. In a public area or private garden, parties of up to 30 would be able to meet outdoors.
It will be permitted to serve pubs and restaurants indoors, but the rule of six will apply. Indoor entertainment will also be allowed to restart, with up to 1000 people being allowed to host venues. Spectators will be able to return to live outdoor sports, with up to 10,000 at the largest stadiums, such as London’s Wembley Stadium, allowed to attend.
Finally, stage four, which will take place no earlier than June 12, will see most social constraints lifted and nightclubs returned. Personal life activities such as weddings, if things go right, would have no restrictions. The government will perform reports on major outdoor activities, such as music festivals, in the weeks and months leading up to phase four.
For individuals who test negative or have been vaccinated, the government will look into contentious initiatives like COVID certification. International travel will not resume until at least May 17 and the devolved governments will negotiate travel between the four nations of the United Kingdom.
Although the measures will be welcomed by most, they will be considered sluggish and, in some cases, divisive, so Mr. Johnson is likely to face opposition from his own Conservative MPs as they come to Parliament before a vote.
Minister of Vaccines Nadhim Zahawi said “steady as she goes” was the government’s intention to relax restrictions.
“Outdoor versus indoor, priority being children in schools,” he said.
“Second priority is obviously allowing two people on March 8 to meet outside for a coffee to address some of the issues around loneliness and of course mental health as well.”