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This is the four-stage plan that could see England free of all Covid-19 restrictions on 21 June

Moving to each stage is to be determined by a series of data-based “tests”.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Image: UK Parliament

A FOUR-STAGE plan could see England’s coronavirus restrictions completely lifted by 21 June, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.

In the first phase, all pupils in England’s schools are expected to return to class from 8 March. Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from that date.

A further easing of restrictions will take place on 29 March when the school Easter holidays begin – with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens.

Devolved governments are outlining their own plans separately, with Northern Ireland keeping its restrictions in place until at least April.  

Making a statement in the House of Commons, Johnson said: “The threat remains substantial with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave in 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 more than 17.5 million people across the UK.

Cases in the UK Covid-19 cases in the UK. Source: COBRA

He added that “no vaccine can ever be 100% effective”, telling MPs: “So, as the modelling released by Sage today shows, we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths.

“And this would happen whenever lockdown is lifted – whether now or in six or nine months – because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccines.

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 wellbeing and the life chances of our children.

Alongside the four-step plan, the Prime Minister launched a series of data-based “tests” that would determine whether the next step in the roadmap can be taken. 

The tests are:

  1. Successful deployment of the vaccine
  2. Evidence shows vaccines are reducing hospitalisations
  3. That infection rates don’t risk a surge in hospitalisation
  4. New variants don’t change the risk assessment

Johnson said there would be at least five weeks between each step and that people would be given a week’s notice before each change.

UK Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that there is a five week gap between each reopening stage to see if the reopening measures and vaccination are having the expected result, and called it a “steady, risk-based, data-driven opening up”.

He also said that if people didn’t stick to the guidelines then cases would shoot up.

Whitty said that the vaccine would bring deaths and hospitalisation rates linked to Covid-19 down, but that it was likely to be part of a list of illnesses – such as flu or streptococcus pneumonia – that circulate each year, particularly during winter.

Responding to those who want to either speed up or slow down the reopening, Johnson said: “We must strike a very careful balance, and we’ve got to be humble in the face of nature”, but also said they must end restrictions that have kept families apart.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The four stages of England’s plan

Step one: March 8

All pupils in all year groups can go back to the classroom from 8 March, with outdoor after-school sports and activities also allowed to restart.

Also from this date, people will be permitted to have socially distanced one-to-one meetings with others outdoors in a public space – meaning friends and family members could sit down for a coffee or have a picnic in the park.

Care home residents will be allowed a single visitor, with visitors required to take a lateral flow test and wear personal protective equipment.

In the second part of the first phase, larger groups could be allowed to gather in parks and gardens from 29 March – when the “stay at home” order will end, with messaging moving to “stay local”.

The “rule of six” will return, meaning up to six people or two households will be able to meet outdoors.

Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts are also set to reopen at the end of next month, with organised adult and children’s sport – including grassroots football – able to return.

Step two: At least five weeks later and no earlier than 12 April

Non-essential retail, personal care premises – such as hairdressers and nail salons – libraries and museums will be permitted to reopen.

Indoor gyms and leisure facilities, such as swimming pools, will be permitted to reopen, but the requirements for social contact in indoor settings will continue.

This means people will only be permitted to visit a museum or exercise in a gym alone or with their own household.

Hospitality venues will be permitted to reopen but for outdoor purposes only, meaning restaurants and pubs will only be able to serve customers outside, where the rule of six or two households will apply.

The requirement for a substantial meal and curfews will both be scrapped, but customers will need to be seated when ordering food or drink.

Self-contained accommodation, such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, will also be able to reopen for overnight stays by households only.

Funerals will be able to continue with up to 30 people, while the number of people who can attend wedding receptions and wakes will rise from the current six to 15.

Step three: At least five weeks later and no earlier than 17 May

Furthering easing of limits on social contact.

Outdoors, the rule of six and two household requirement will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 people in parks and gardens will remain illegal.

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Meanwhile, up to six people or a larger group from up to two households will be permitted to meet indoors, but this is subject to review.

Indoor hospitality – inside pubs and restaurants – is set to open up at this point, where the rule of six or two household rule will apply, alongside entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas.

Larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues, with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full, whichever is lower, will be allowed, while outdoors it will be 4,000 people or half-full, again whichever is lower.

Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals, and other life events will be permitted, such as bar mitzvahs and christenings.

International travel rules will also be reviewed, with 17 May targeted as the earliest possible date for a foreign holiday.

Step four: At least five weeks later and no earlier than 21 June

The final step would see all legal limits on social contact removed.

It is also hoped that the final closed sectors of the economy, such as nightclubs, could be allowed to reopen, while restrictions on large events could also be eased.

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