Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled a four-stage plan to get England out of lockdown.
The PM has set out a timetable for reopening England after the lockdowns introduced to curb the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
It will see schools open next month, with non-essential retail allowed to open from April alongside outdoor hospitality.
Mr Johnson said the country would reopen cautiously and be driven by data on how the virus was being brought under control.
He said: “At every stage our decisions will be led by data not dates and subjected to four tests. First that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully, second that evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths.
“Third that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS and fourth that our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern.
“And that is why it is so crucial that this road map should be cautious but also irreversible. We’re setting out on what I hope and believe is a one way road to freedom and this journey is made possible by the pace of the vaccination programme.”
There will be no return to the system of tiers. Changes will take place across the whole of England.
Here’s what the four stages of the roadmap mean:
Step 1 – March 8
Step one comes in two parts. On March 8 , every school will re-open while after-school sports and activities will restart. Face masks will need to be worn by secondary school pupils.
People will be allowed to socialise in a public space, such as a park, with one other person. This means they can sit down for a coffee, drink or picnic (at the moment, you can meet with one other person for exercise but not to sit down). Care home residents will be allowed one regular visitor.
The current “stay at home order” will remain in place.
From March 29 , outdoor gatherings of up to six people – or a larger number of people if they only come from two households – will be allowed, allowing people to meet in the Easter holidays.
Outdoor sporting venues will be opened and people can enjoy taking part in outdoor sports.
The stay at home order will end, but people will be advised to “stay local” and continue to work from home where possible.
Step 2 – no earlier than April 12
High streets will welcome news that re-opening will take place of non-essential shops, personal care premises such as hairdressers and nail salons, as well as public buildings such as museums.
Outdoor venues such as zoos, theme parks and hospitality venues, can reopen.
Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools will also reopen subject to social contact rules, meaning people should only visit these facilities with members of their own household.
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Hospitality venues will open for outdoor customers only, so restaurants and pubs can only serve people outdoors. Social mixing rules continue – you can only go to these outdoor venues in groups of six, or larger groups with just two households.
Mr Johnson said the so-called Scotch Egg rule would end as this time, as there will be no rule that you must have a meal in order to buy a drink. There will be no 10pm curfew but you must be seated when you order anything.
Events such as weddings, wakes and funerals can be held with 15 people (up from 6 now) .
Step 3 – no earlier than May 17
Most social contact rules will end outdoors. A maximum of 30 people will be allowed at any outdoor gathering, such as in a park or garden.
Mixing of different households will be allowed indoors again for the first time, though the rule of six/two household rule applies indoors.
Indoor hospitality will be allowed, so venues such as pubs and cinemas can open indoors.
Hotels, B&Bs, and indoor exercise classes will be able to re-open.
Entertainment and sporting venues such as football clubs and concert halls will be allowed to re-open for the public, but with limits on the numbers of spectators allowed.
Indoors, the limit will be 1,000 people or the venue half full, whichever is lower. Outdoors in most venues the limit will be 4,000 people allowed or half full, whichever is lower.
In the biggest venues, for example major football clubs, up to 10,000 people or a quarter full, whichever is lower.
Step 4 -no earlier than June 21
At this stage, the Government hopes to re-open those final closed sectors of the economy including night clubs.
It hopes to end restrictions on live events and performances, and possibly to end all restrictions on weddings.
More reviews will take place
- A number of reviews will also take place as England emerges from lockdown. They are:
- A review on whether “Covid status certification” could help to re-open the economy. The Government will complete this before getting to stage 4. It will consider whether there should be passports allowing people to show they have tested negative for Covid, or have been vaccinated.
- A review of whether it is safe to allow more people to attend events.
- Department for Transport to look at more ways to allow people to travel into or out of the UK, to report by April 12. But we know international travel won’t resume before May 17 at the earliest.
- A review of social distancing measures such as face masks and working from home. This will conclude ahead of getting to step 4.
How the dates will be decided
The dates for steps two to four are “not before” dates, and could be changed if the data shows delays are needed.
There is a minimum of five weeks between each step – four weeks to see the impact of the step taken previously, plus one week’s notice of the changes.
These four tests must be met before any new stage begins:
- 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.
- Our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.
PM warns Covid 19 might never go away
The roadmap document warns: “Over time, scientists expect Covid-19 to become endemic, meaning the virus will reach a stable, and hopefully manageable level. Vaccinations – including revaccination – will be key to managing the transition from pandemic to endemic state.
“Therapeutics and antivirals will become increasingly important, replacing most non-pharmaceutical interventions over the long-term. The Government is also committed to building resilience for any future pandemics, both domestically and on the international stage.”