Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, and I am pleased that, following the success of the vaccination programme and the current lockdown in reducing hospital admissions, deaths and COVID-19 infection rates, restrictions can now gradually be relaxed in a cautious phasing-out approach.
The threat remains substantial, with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave last April. But we are able to take these steps because of the resolve of the British people and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating over 17.5 million people across the UK. We will start relaxing restrictions on March 8th, by which time everyone in the top four priority groups will be benefiting from the increased protection they receive from the first dose of their vaccine.
The current plan to ease lockdown restrictions in the UK is as follows:
From 8 March: All schools will re-open, and outdoor after-school sports and activities will be allowed to take place. This will be supported by the introduction of twice-weekly testing in secondary schools and colleges, and home based testing for staff. University courses that require practical teaching can also return, but others will need to continue learning online and the return date will be reviewed by the end of the Easter holidays.
People will also be able to meet with one other person for outdoor recreations- such as coffee on a bench- in addition to exercise. Every care home resident will be able to nominate a named visitor and will be able to see them regularly, provided they are tested and wear PPE.
From 29 March: Outdoor gatherings of six people, or two households, will be allowed, as well as outdoor sports facilities, including swimming pools. People will no longer be legally required to stay at home, but many lockdown restrictions will stay in place such as the advice to work from home and holidays abroad will still be prohibited.
From 12 April: Non-essential retail, hairdressers, outdoor hospitality such as pubs and restaurants, gyms and self-contained holiday accommodation can re-open.
From 17 May: Two households can mix indoors, cinemas, hotels entertainment venues and indoor pubs and restaurants will open, and weddings and funerals of up to 30 people can take place.
From 21 June: Final restrictions will be lifted.
Whilst this is a one-way roadmap, and the government aims to follow these given dates, each phase will of course be informed by the data. Each phase will only be entered if:
- The vaccine programme continues to progress successfully;
- The vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospital admissions and deaths;
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations;
- New variants do not fundamentally change the risk of lifting restrictions.
Before taking each step, the Government will review the data against these tests. Since it takes at least four weeks for the data to reflect the impact of changes in restrictions, and we want to give businesses a week’s notice before each change, there will be at least five weeks between each step.
We must remain alert to the constant mutations of the virus. Next month, we will publish an updated plan for responding to local outbreaks, with a toolkit of measures to address the variants of concern, including surge PCR testing and enhanced contact tracing. We cannot rule out re-imposing restrictions at local or regional level if evidence suggests they are necessary to contain or suppress a new variant.
I hope that this will offer some stability and hope for all of you, that after all that we have endured as a country, the end really is in sight. A wretched year will give way to a spring and summer that will be very different and incomparably better than the picture we see around us today.