Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a statement to the House of Commons around the roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England, revealing four steps.
Johnson noted that due to the fact the Covid-19 will mutate, there is “no credible path to a Zero Covid Britain” and therefore we “cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy.” He added “that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible.”
The government is likely to ease restrictions in all areas simultaneously, driven by evidence. All decisions “will be led by data not dates,” and subjected to four tests; that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; that evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently good at reducing hospitalisations and deaths; that infection rates don't risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; that the government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern.
Step one will happen from 8 March. Pupils and students in most schools and further education settings will go back to face-to-face teaching, supported by twice-weekly testing of school and college pupils.
Breakfast and afterschool clubs may also re-open – and other children’s activities, including sport, can restart where necessary to help parents to work. Students on university courses requiring practical teaching, specialist facilities or onsite assessments will also return.
From 8 March, individuals will also be able to meet one person from outside their household for activities – such as a coffee on a bench or perhaps a picnic in a park – along with exercise. Every care home resident can nominate a named visitor, able to see them regularly provided they are tested and wear PPE.
As part of Step one, the government will also make limited changes on 29 March, when schools continue Easter holidays. It will become easy to meet in limited numbers outdoors, in which the risk is lower. The Rule of Six will return outdoors, including in private gardens and outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted on the same basis, to ensure that families in different circumstances can meet.
Outdoor sports facilities – such as tennis and basketball courts, and open-air pools – will be able to reopen and formally organised outdoor sports will resume, subject to guidance.
From this point, 29 March, individuals will no longer be legally required to stay at home but many lockdown restrictions will remain. People should still work from home where they can and minimise all travel whenever we can.
Step two will begin at least five weeks following the beginning of step one and no earlier than 12 April, with an announcement at least seven days in advance.
In step two non-essential retail will reopen, and so will personal care including hairdressers and nail salons. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will re-open, as will holiday-lets, but only for use by individuals or household groups.
Pubs and restaurants will even begin to reopen outdoors with no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal. Zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas will reopen, and so will public libraries and community centres.
Step three will begin no earlier than 17 May. Most restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, subject to a limit of thirty. This is also the point friends and family can meet indoors – susceptible to the Rule of Six or the meeting of two households.
Pubs and restaurants is going to be reopened indoors, along with cinemas and children’s play areas, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs. Theatres and concert halls will open, and sports stadia, subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue.
Step 4 will start no earlier than 21 June, using the aim to remove all legal limits on social contact, as well as on weddings and other life events. Everything up to and including nightclubs, will be reopened.
Johnson added that reviews will assess how long we need to maintain social distancing and face masks, which will also inform guidance on working at home.
A second review will think about the resumption of international travel, that is vital for many businesses which have been hardest hit including retail, hospitality, tourism and aviation. A successor to the Global Travel Taskforce will report by 12 April so that people can plan for the summer.
The third review will consider the potential role of Covid-status certification in assisting venues to open safely but conscious of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy.
And your fourth review will look at the safe return of major events.
Responding to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire) Chief Executive Scott Knowles said: “We welcome the Government’s roadmap to ending lockdown, which finally offers businesses and communities some clarity after almost a year of hardship.
“Given that the East Midlands was arguably affected by local lockdowns more than any other region – Leicester continues to be under the harshest restrictions throughout this pandemic, while Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were embroiled in huge uncertainty at the back end of last year – every business will welcome that there will be no return to the deeply-flawed tiering system.
“The principle of caution in the way we exit lockdown is understandable because of the events of summer 2021 and need to meet the Prime Minister’s promise with this move to be ‘irreversible’.
“At the same time, however, if the Government says it will slow down the easing of restrictions should the public health picture not progress sufficiently according to its four tests, it must also be prepared to accelerate the economy’s reopening when the vaccine rollout has a speedier impact than expected.
“Until we reach this point, businesses in industries for example hospitality, events, tourism and aviation that continue to be affected by restrictions must be given the necessary support if they are to be here when we get to the other side of the pandemic. This means the Government must be ready to provide financial help, at pace, by means of grants for some months to come and remove the cliff edges for business rate reliefs, VAT deferrals and furlough – which should be extended.
“We also can’t underestimate the impact this period has had on the mental health of employees, parents, children and business people, so transparent communication throughout the easing of lockdown will be vital in lifting morale.
“It’s to become hoped this announcement marks the end of the slapdash approach to reopening and closing the economy, giving all of us a clear sense of direction for that months ahead. We’re not using this yet but finally we can begin to see some light after what has been a long, dark tunnel.”
Federation of Smaller businesses (FSB) Development Manager Natalie Gasson-McKinley said: “This guide provides some much-needed clarity for small businesses in England, which have faced a remarkably tough year. The Government’s commitment to helping small firms and sole traders access testing and its recognition of the plight faced by suppliers are welcome.
“It’s essential for this plan to protect against a fourth Covid wave and accompanying lockdown, the imposition which would be devastating for the 250,000 businesses that fear closure this year. Smaller businesses are clear that recovery depends on an accelerating vaccine programme, access to an improved testing infrastructure for firms of all sizes, the safe return of schools, and the right safety measures within businesses.
“The Chancellor must deliver around the Prime Minister’s “whatever it takes” pledge at next week’s Budget. Somewhere of the coin we have continued restrictions – on the other, we need corresponding business support.
“Whatever it takes means bringing those overlooked by current support measures in to the fold, including suppliers, directors and also the newly self-employed. Upwards of a million small business owners and sole traders are presently receiving no direct help whatsoever.
“Extension of business rates reliefs and measures to mitigate the burden of emergency debt will give you small firms with some urgently-needed breathing space because they fight to make it through to the summer.
“Fundamentally, the implementation of, and deadlines for, business support measures have to reflect this road map to avoid forcing the truly amazing businesses of tomorrow under before they’ve were built with a chance to realise their potential.”
Simon Beardsley, Leader of Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “It's helpful that many businesses in Lincolnshire and across the country can now see a path to restart and recover. We will continue to call for absolute clarity and honesty every step of the way over the weeks ahead, to ensure that businesses have a fighting chance to rebuild. The stop-start and drip-feed dynamic of the past year has been so damaging for the business community and we must see that come to an end.
“Even with the new roadmap, the way forward for thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs with a thread as many hard-hit businesses simply don’t have the funds reserves needed to hold out several more months before they're allowed to reopen.
“Businesses will hold the Prime Minister to his pledge to aid organisations for the duration of the pandemic, as we start to see light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses have haemorrhaged billions of pounds over the past year and want action now.
“We will continue to lobby to see that all the key support schemes for business should be extended – through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 – to ensure that as many viable organisations as possible can make it to the end of this pandemic and on the road to recovery.”