PM Boris Johnson has announced the government’s roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions in England with non-essential shops due to open on 12 April
Each step will be assessed against four tests before restrictions ease, starting with the return of schools on 8 March.
The PM is clear that the decision on each stage will be based on data not dates, and government will move cautiously to keep infection rates under control.
Supported by the increased protection offered by the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines, the government is able to slowly and cautiously begin to ease restrictions in all areas across England at the same time, guided at all stages by data, not dates.
The roadmap, which has now been published on gov.uk, outlines four steps for easing restrictions. Before proceeding to the next step, the government will examine the data to assess the impact of previous steps. There is a five-week period between each step to allow the government to review the situation before proceeding with the next lockdown release.
This assessment will be based on four tests:
- the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully;
- evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated;
- infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and
- assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.
There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step: four weeks for the data to reflect changes in restrictions; followed by seven days’ notice of confirmation of the restrictions to be eased.
Step 1: 8 March
From 8 March all children and students will return to face to face education in schools and college with breakfast and after school clubs operational. By this point, everyone in the top four vaccine priority cohorts – as determined by the independent JCVI – will have received the first dose of their vaccine and developed the necessary protection from it.
Also from this date, care home residents will be allowed one regular visitor provided they are tested and wear PPE.
The Stay at Home requirement will remain, but people can leave home for recreation outdoors such as a coffee or picnic with their household or support bubble, or with one person outside their household.
Some university students on practical courses will be able to return to face to face learning.
Changes from 29 March
As part of step one, there will be further limited changes from 29 March, the week in which most schools will break up for Easter. Outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, providing greater flexibility for families to see each other. This includes in private gardens.
Outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts, will be allowed to reopen, and people can take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
At this point, the Stay at Home order will end, although many lockdown restrictions will remain.
For example, the government said people should continue to work from home where possible, and overseas travel remains banned, aside for a small number of reasons.
Step 2, no earlier than 12 April:
Non-essential retail, hairdressers and nail salons, and public buildings, such as libraries and community centres, will reopen.
Hospitality venues can serve people outdoors only. There will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcohol, and no curfew - although customers must order, eat and drink while seated.
Most outdoor attractions and settings, including zoos, and theme parks, will also reopen although wider social contact rules will apply in these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households. Drive-in cinemas and drive-in performances will also be permitted.
Indoor leisure facilities, such as gyms and swimming pools, will also reopen - but only for use by people on their own or with their household.
Self-contained accommodation, such as holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, can also reopen.
Funerals can continue with up to 30 people, and the numbers able to attend weddings, receptions and commemorative events such as wakes will rise to 15 (from six).
Step 3, no earlier than 17 May:
Outdoors, most social contact rules will be lifted - although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal.
Outdoor performances such as outdoor cinemas, outdoor theatres and outdoor cinemas can reopen. Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply - although this will be kept under review.
Indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes will also reopen.
Larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is lower) will also be allowed, as will those in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4000 people or half-full (whichever is lower).
In the largest outdoor seated venues where crowds can spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend (or a quarter-full, whichever is lower).
Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals. Other life events that will be permitted include bar mitzvahs and christenings.
Step 4, no earlier than 21 June:
21 June is the provisional deadline to remove all legal limits on social contact. This date should also see the reopening of nightclubs, and restrictions on attendance at large events and performances will be lifted.
This will also guide decisions on whether all limits can be removed on weddings and other life events.
In the meantime, the vaccination programme continues, with the announcement of a new target to offer a first dose of the vaccine to every adult by the end of July.
The government hopes that the increased protection offered by vaccines will gradually replace the restrictions, with the roadmap providing the principles of the transition.
Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said: ’At first glance, many businesses will feel like we’ve been here before. An optimistic but cautious roadmap back to some semblance of normality, with hopeful plans for most restrictions being relaxed, or removed altogether, by the summer. However, as the Prime Minister was keen to stress, how this will work in England will depend on several factors, not the least of which are the continued successful roll-out of the vaccination programme and the dates are not cast in stone.
‘We now have much more of an idea when we can expect restrictions to be lifted over the coming months and that, crucially, at least one week’s notice will be provided to businesses if there are changes to the plan. Provided everything goes well, venues such as nightclubs could see themselves reopening for the first time in over a year by late June, something that will likely be a significant relief for operators in this area who are struggling.’
The government continues to work closely with the Devolved Administrations which are still to set out their approaches for easing lockdown rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.