Boris Johnson has announced his roadmap for leaving lockdown, and praised the resolve of the British public in following the restrictions and assisting in the reduction of the COVID-19 spread.
Each step of the plan will be assessed against four tests before the restrictions ease:
- 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.
- New variants of the virus do not fundamentally change the risk of lifting lockdown.
- There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step – four weeks for the data to reflect if there has been a change due to restrictions, followed by seven days’ notice of the restrictions that will be eased.
Step 1 – 8th March:
- All primary school children will return to school on Monday 8th March. Primary school staff will continue to take 2 rapid COVID-19 tests each week at home.
- All secondary school and college students will take three COVID-19 tests at existing school testing facilities. Schools and colleges will have discretion on how to test students over that week to enable their return to the classroom. After the initial programme of three tests in school or college, students will be provided with 2 rapid tests to use each week at home.
- Secondary school and college staff will also be provided with 2 tests to use each week at home.
- University students on practical courses who need to access specialist facilities and equipment can return to in-person teaching and learning from this date. Twice weekly testing will continue to be available for all on campus.
- Wraparound childcare for primary and secondary pupils will resume from Monday 8th March where necessary, to enable parents to access work, education or medical care.
- Staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained and as a temporary extra measure.
- For the remaining university students, the government will review the options for their return by the end of the Easter holidays. Students and institutions will be given a week’s notice ahead of any return.
- All staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries will have access to tests to use twice weekly at home, building on the testing already available to maintained nursery schools and school-based nurseries. Childminders can continue to access community testing, with testing procedures being closely reviewed.
As part of step one, there will be further limited changes from 29th March, the week in which most schools will break up for Easter:
- Outdoor gatherings of either 6 people or 2 households will be allowed, providing greater flexibility for families to see each other. This includes 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, you 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 12th April:
- Non-essential retail, personal care premises (e.g. hairdressers and nail salons) and public buildings such as libraries and community centres will reopen.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (previously 6).
Step 3 – no earlier than 17th May:
- Outdoors, most social contact rules will be lifted – although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal.
- Outdoor performances such as outdoor theatres and outdoor cinemas can reopen. Indoors, the rule of 6 people (or 2 households) will apply – although it will be continually under review whether it is safe to increase this.
- 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 4,000 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:
- It is hoped all legal limits on social contact can be removed.
- Nightclubs hope to reopen, and restrictions lifted on large events and performances that apply in Step 3.
- This will also guide decisions on whether all limits can be removed on weddings and other life events.
In regards to the opening of schools, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“I know this is a moment that students and parents up and down the country have been waiting for, and I would like to take this opportunity to give my thanks to all education and childcare staff and parents who have worked so hard to make sure students have continued to receive a high-quality education throughout this lockdown.”
In the meantime, the vaccination programme continues at pace, 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 published roadmap providing the principles of the transition.
[by Abigail King]