Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out plans to “cautiously but irreversibly” lift the UK out of its third national lockdown, with plans kicking off with the reopening of schools on 8 March.
“I know they are some who are worried that we are being too ambitious and that it is arrogant to impose any kind of plan upon a virus, I agree we must always be humble and cautious,” Johnson told MPs. “However, the vaccination programme has dramatically changed the odds in our favour.”
The 22 February statement in the House of Commons detailed a four-part roadmap, led by “data not dates” which comes as the government faced intensified pressure to explain how and when it will re-open the economy after England’s third nationwide lockdown.
The roadmap also marks the end of the tier system, which would see different areas under different restrictions depending on the status of the epidemic.
There will be five weeks between each step, with four weeks for the data to reflect the changes in restrictions and then one week to notify the sectors.
Each step will depend on the continued success of the vaccine programme, as well as evidence that shows vaccines are effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths, infection rates don’t surge again and put pressure on the NHS, and that no variants change the perception of risk.
According to the latest government figures, more than 17 and a half million people have received the first dose of the vaccine as of 20 February. On 21 February, the UK reported 9,834 new positive cases and 215 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Speaking to Sky News on 22 February, the vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said that he was “confident that if we do this cautiously and we do it based on the data and evidence, it will be sustainable, and it will be the last time we enter a lockdown because of Covid-19”.
The roadmap will be guided by data and not by dates, the Prime Minister said, meaning that if the epidemic worsens, the stages may be delayed. Johnson also said that the Chancellor will be announcing further details of the economic support that the government will continue to offer as the economy reopens.
Below is a timetable for the measures and what changes will take effect:
Step one: 8 and 29 March – schools, outdoor sports, social gatherings
The first step of the lifting of lockdown will come in two parts: 8 March and 29 March.
Firstly, schools will reopen on 8 March, the Prime Minister told MPs, and care homes will also permit visiting with outdoor socialising with one other friend or relative. Outdoor school sports and activities may also restart on that date. Secondary school children will be required to wear masks in the classroom as well as in corridors. The government will introduce twice-weekly testing for pupils in secondary school and at college, with one test on site and then one at home. Households with school children will be encouraged to also be tested, as well as those in support and childcare bubbles, and in jobs related to childcare.
On 29 March, outdoor gatherings of six people or two households will be allowed, including meetings in private gardens. At this point, outdoor sports facilities will reopen, including outdoor pools, tennis and basketball courts. These facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts, and swimming pools, can be used by people in line with the wider social contact limits. Formally organised outdoor sports – for adults and under 18s – can also restart and will not be subject to the gatherings limits, but should be compliant with guidance issued by national governing bodies.
The stay at home order will remain in place throughout step one, lifting at the beginning of step two, although people will be encouraged to stay local.
Those that qualify to form a support bubble will still be able to do so, enabling close contact for many of those in most need of support, and will continue to be counted as part of the same household.
Outdoor childcare and supervised activities will reopen for all children, while parent and child groups will also be allowed again, with a limit of 15 attendees. Children under the age of five years do not count in this group.
People will no longer be legally required to remain at home, but should work from home where they can.
Step two: 12 April – indoor leisure, outdoor attractions, hairdressers, outdoor hospitality, local holidays
Step two will start no earlier than 12 April and will see non-essential retail re-open, such as hairdressers. Libraries and museums will also be allowed to re-open, as well as hospitality venues, zoos and theme parks. Only people from the same household can meet indoors, outdoors the rule of six or two households continues to apply.
Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to re-open for outdoor purposes only; diners can be served at tables outside and in beer gardens. There will no longer be a curfew for hospitality venues nor the requirement to have a “substantial meal” with alcohol. Diners, however, will have to be seated to order food.
In step two, self-contained accommodation, such as a self-catering cottage, will be allowed to reopen but only guests from the same household can stay. The number of people allowed to attend weddings and funerals will rise from six to 15.
Step three: 17 May – social contact rules lifted, international travel
The third part of the government’s lockdown lifting will start no earlier than 17 May and it will ease the limits of social contacts. Outdoors, most social contact rules will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 people outside will be illegal.
Indoor mixing will be allowed in step three, the rule of six applying, or a large group from two households. Thirty people will be able to attend weddings and funerals.
Some large events, such as football games, will be allowed to resume with fans. At a stadium, there can be 10,000 supporters, or 25% capacity, whichever is lowest.
International travel will be allowed to resume subject to review.
Step four: 21 June – nightclubs, theatre, weddings
The last step will come into force no earlier than 21 June, with all legal limits on social contact removed.
The government hopes to be able to reopen the final parts of the economy that have remained closed since the beginning of the pandemic, for example nightclubs and theatre events.
Depending on the outcome of the events research programme, which will include a series of pilots using testing approaches to run large events, there could be a removal of all limits on weddings and other life events.
To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Bérengère Sim