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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

Boris Johnson lays out England's lockdown exit strategy

Prime Minister vows to ease restrictions as he admits country will never be Covid-free

All legal limits on social contact will end by June 21 at the earliest as part of England’s road map out of lockdown, Boris Johnson announced on Monday.

The prime minister said there was no credible route to eliminating Covid-19 from Britain or the world, so lockdown restrictions would be cautiously lifted in England as they cannot be maintained indefinitely.

"There is therefore 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," he told MPs.

"And that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap is cautious but also irreversible. We’re setting out on what I hope and believe is a one-way road to freedom."

Mr Johnson said the first stage of lockdown easing would prioritise schools returning on March 8 when only minimal socialising outdoors would be allowed.

The roadmap would then pass through four stages, with five weeks in between, and the final step - when most restrictions would be lifted - not starting until June 21 at the earliest.

Mr Johnson has faced pressure from multiple directions - from within his own Conservative Party to restart the economy, but also from scientific advisers who fear a resurgence of the virus if he unlocks too quickly.

He has appeared more cautious in recent months than earlier in the pandemic, when he was widely criticised for his eagerness to reopen shops, restaurants, pubs and offices.

Patrick Vallance, the government's top scientific adviser, said the UK was in a better position than it was at the start of the second wave.

"The message that comes out of all of the modelling is ... get (infection) numbers down before you start releasing, go slowly, (and) go in blocks that you can measure the effect of after four or five weeks," he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London before announcing his road map for easing lockdown. Reuters 
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London before announcing his road map for easing lockdown. Reuters 

England's vaccine campaign is significantly reducing cases, with a drop of around 70 per cent in infections among healthcare workers who have had a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, health officials said on Monday.

Britain has sufficient vaccine supplies but is always looking to source more, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a public briefing later on Monday.

"We do believe we have the supplies in place to keep up that rhythm and that timetable," Johnson told a news conference.

"Obviously, we're looking the whole time to source more where we can from our suppliers according to the contracts that we've have already signed," he said.

Cases of coronavirus and deaths caused by it will be a problem in the next few winters to come in Britain even with widespread vaccinations, England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said at the news conference Monday.

"I think people need to see it in that way ... this is something where the vaccination will take the rates right down but they will not get rid of this," he said.

"This is something we have to see for the long term and it is my view that it is likely to be a problem in the winter for the next few winters."

He also added, "there will, at some point, be a surge of cases and R is going to creep closer to 1 ... It might at some point exceed 1 and at that point we would expect to see some cases rising.”

"The vaccination takes a lot of the heavy lifting on this and once we’ve got a large proportion of the population vaccinated, our expectation is that will pull the natural R ... down."

The key dates for reopening include:

March 8

All children and students allowed to return to schools and colleges in England, as well as after-school and before-school clubs. Secondary pupils will be tested for coronavirus twice a week.

Two adults from different households will be allowed to meet outdoors for a coffee or to sit down on a park bench: until now, this has only been allowed for exercise.

Care home residents will also be allowed one regular, named visitor.

March 29

Two families of any size can meet outdoors, including in private gardens. The “rule of six” will apply if people are meeting from more than two households.

Outdoor sports and activities such as tennis, golf and grassroots football can resume.

The stay-at-home order will end, with government messaging changing to “stay local”.

People are still encouraged to work from home where possible, while overseas holidays are still banned.

April 12 at the earliest

Non-essential retail to reopen, as well as hairdressers and nail salons.

Public buildings such as libraries and museums will reopen, as well as outdoor attractions, including zoos and theme parks. Wider social contact rules apply in all of those settings: people can only attend with members of their own household to indoor venues.

Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools to reopen.

Hospitality venues including pubs and restaurants will reopen for outdoor service only. Two families of any size or six people from more than two households can visit. There will be no curfews on hospitality, and alcohol can be served without food, unlike in the previous easing. Customers will still have to be seated when they order food or drink.

Self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets to re-open so long as there aren’t indoor facilities shared with other households. Funerals can continue with up to 30 people. Attendance at weddings and wakes rises from six to 15.

May 17 at the earliest

The earliest date at which foreign travel can resume, pending a review.

Most outdoor social contact rules can be lifted, but gatherings of more than 30 people in parks and gardens will remain illegal. Indoor mixing allowed for two households of any size or six people from more than two households. Indoor hospitality, hotels and bed and breakfasts can reopen, with two households allowed to mix.

Entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas can re-open, and indoor sports groups and exercise classes can resume. Indoor performances and sporting events can host crowds of up to 1,000 people or be half full, whichever is lower. Outdoor venues and sporting events can host crowds of 4,000 or be half full, whichever is lower. The largest outdoor venues, such as the biggest soccer stadiums, can host 10,000 people or be a quarter full, whichever is lower. Up to 30 people can attend weddings, receptions, wakes, funerals and other life events such as bar mitzvahs and christenings.

Before June 21

Review to report on whether Covid vaccine certificates can play a role in reducing restrictions on social contact and reopening the economy. Review to report on social distancing measures, including on use of face masks and working from home.

June 21 at the earliest

All limits on social contact to be lifted. Final sectors of the economy, such as night clubs, allowed to reopen. Restrictions lifted on large events and performances. Restrictions lifted on attendance at weddings and other life events.

Updated: February 23, 2021 12:16 AM

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