Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveils a four-stage roadmap that will ‘cautiously but irreversibly’ see the COVID-19 restrictions lifted. Tony McDonough reports
Britain could be back to normal by June 21 with all restrictions on mixing lifted, including bars and restaurants being allowed to open and large events permitted to go ahead.
Addressing the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a four-stage roadmap that will “cautiously but irreversibly” see the final lifting of the UK’s third COVID-19 lockdown.
With cases falling and the vaccine rollout continuing apace, the Government has set out its plan to open up the country. However, Mr Johnson stressed that each of the four stages could be subject to delay adding that the opening up will be guided by “data rather than dates”.
He added there would be a minimum of five weeks between each stage. This will allow for four weeks to assess the latest data on transmission and hospital admissions and then an extra week to allow people and businesses to prepare for the next changes. The programme is as follows:
Step 1 – March 8
- All pupils and college students return fully, with before- and after-school clubs opened. For a period, secondary school pupils and older will wear masks in classes.
- People can meet one other person outside for, say, a coffee or picnic, not just for exercise. Children will still count towards this.
- Care home residents can receive one regular, named visitor.
- The “stay at home” order will otherwise stay in place.
Step 2 – March 29
- Outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens.
- Outdoor sport for children and adults will be allowed including outdoor swimming pools.
- The official stay at home order will end, but people will be encouraged to stay local – the definition of local will largely be left to people’s discretion.
- People will still be asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.
- Step 2 – no earlier than April 12
- Reopening of non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and public buildings such as libraries and museums.
- Most outdoor venues open, including pubs and restaurants but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.
- Also reopening will be settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules will apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing.
- Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools also open but again people can only go alone or with their own household.
- Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities, but only for one household.
- Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.
Step 3 – no earlier than May 17
- Most mixing rules lifted outdoors, with a limit of 30 people meeting in parks or gardens.
- Indoor mixing will be allowed, up to six people or, if it is more people, two households.
- Indoor venues such as the inside of pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, play centres, cinemas and group exercise classes will reopen. The new indoor and outdoor mixing limits will remain for pubs and other hospitality venues.
- This will be the earliest date at which international holidays could resume, subject to a review – see the list of reviews below.
- For sport, indoor venues can have up to 1,000 spectators or half capacity, whichever is lower; outdoors the limit will be 4,000 people or half capacity, whichever is lower. Very large outdoor seated venues, such as big football stadiums, where crowds can be spread out, will have a limit of 10,000 people, or a quarter full, whichever is fewer.
- Weddings will be allowed a limit of 30 people, with other events such as christenings and barmitzvahs also permitted.
Step 4 – no earlier than June 21
- All legal limits removed on mixing will be removed and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.
- There are likely to be changes to wider social distancing measures but this will be decided in a separate review.
The Government has also said that four reviews taking place within the unlocking process. They will be:
- On whether “COVID status certificates” – ie vaccine or test passports – could be used to help reopen the economy and/or reduce restrictions on contact. This will be set out ahead of step 4. Officials say it is not a foregone conclusion that these will be used.
- An “events research programme”, with pilots to test the effects of larger crowds and/or reduced social distancing. This will start in April.
- A Department for Transport review into how to allow more inbound and outbound travel as soon as possible, given worries over new variants of Covid. It will report on 12 April, but international travel will not resume before 17 May at the earliest.
- A review of social distancing, for example the 1 metre-plus rule, and on masks and working from home. This will conclude before step 4.
In a joint statement, the Local Authority Leaders, Acting Mayor of Liverpool, and Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said: “After the huge sacrifices of the last 12 months, and we are sure that everyone will breathe a huge sigh of relief that light is beginning to appear at the end of a very dark tunnel.
“However, the threat from coronavirus remains very real and we still have many weeks of restrictions ahead of us, so everyone should continue to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.
“Given the need for continued restrictions it is vital that the government come forward with a further package of financial support including further help for businesses that will be forced to remain closed for some months, additional support for workers who need to self-isolate, and a scheme to help the 3m self-employed who have been excluded from any form of help at all for the past year.”
Andrew Ruffler, chief executive of Professional Liverpool, said: “This latest and hopefully last lockdown has been challenging for everyone, but the remarkable progress made with the vaccine roll-out means there is at last line of sight for what the rest of this year could look like, and from May 17 a realistic hope that the hugely important visitor economy could start to come back to life.
“By the summer we have a chance of something much closer to the way we lived and worked before the pandemic. We don’t expect a mass return to the workplace but the start of this more flexible, hybrid model, with safety concerns still factored in.”
And Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses will welcome today’s announcement which goes some way to giving them the reassurance and clarity they need to enable them to plan ahead after months of restrictions and uncertainty. We look forward to further details in the coming weeks, including the Budget next week, to fully understand the process of reopening.
“The successful roll out of the vaccine programme has brought a much needed sense of optimism in what has been a dismal winter. We must aim for the same level of efficiency and collaboration for our testing and track and trace system to given businesses and customers confidence that we can gradually reopen the economy safely and consistently.”