From the reopening of pubs to summer holidays, here’s what we might expect from the PM’s plan to unlock the UK
On Feb 22, England will have been subject to nationwide restrictions for 48 days, but coming out of this period will involve a gradual reopening of society rather than a set date on which we can return to normal.
Speaking during a visit to Wales on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said the country would leave lockdown “in stages, cautiously” and stressed the need for progress to be “one way”.
Asked about the prospects for pubs and restaurants, said: “You have to remember from last year that we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.”
From getting children back to school to reopening pubs, speculation is rife as to which measures could be eased and when. On Monday, Mr Johnson said: “We want this lockdown to be the last. And we want progress to be cautious, but also irreversible.”
Mr Johnson’s plan to reopen schools on Mar 8 will be announced on Feb 22 as part of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
He ordered ministers to ramp up preparations for reopening schools after being told that the UK had passed the peak of the current coronavirus wave.
It is understood that ministers are discussing a proposal with primary schools returning first and secondaries a week or two later.
That would be in line with Scotland’s plans. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, has said pupils in Primary One to Primary Three – those aged between five and eight – will return to school full time on Feb 22, as will all children under school age in early learning and childcare.
A “limited number” of secondary school students will also be able to return on a part-time basis to allow in-school practical work necessary for the completion of national qualifications from the same date. Additionally, there will be a “limited increase in provision for vulnerable children”, Ms Sturgeon said.
It is likely that the rule of only exercising within your own household or with one person from another household will remain, and that social distancing will still have to be adhered to. This would pave the way for grandparents to be able to see their grandchildren again.
Non-essential shops may also get the nod to reopen in March, if not early April at the latest.
If England were to follow Scotland’s plans, schools could be reopened fully to all pupils for face-to-face learning by early April.
The devolved governments appear to have been a fortnight ahead of Westminster in terms of lockdown timescales, with Wales also due to send some of its pupils back to school on Feb 22.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, also hinted that the country’s tourism industry could be open for business by Easter.
“There are no guarantees in this, nobody can offer them a guarantee,”he told a press conference in Cardiff on Feb 12. “When we reopened tourism last year, we didn’t go from nothing to everything in one go. Our first steps were to reopen self-contained accommodation, where people had all their own facilities and that self-contained accommodation was occupied by people in your own family group.”
He stressed how important the Easter period was for tourism in Wales, and that his ministers would “do what we can to respond to their wish to be able to resume trading again over the Easter period”.
But he added: “Nobody should think for a moment that that will mean a wholesale reopening of that industry, and anybody who is booking ahead needs to do so in the full knowledge that the improvements that we are seeing at the moment, nobody can guarantee that things will continue in that way.”
So if England followed suit, that could mean the reopening of self-catered holiday lets and perhaps some larger hotels.
Communal dining areas would be likely to be off limits, and people would have to remain within their households or bubbles.
The Telegraph understands that the Government is looking to implement a “three-stage” plan, which could mean pubs and restaurants reopening in May.
Information gleaned from Cabinet discussions suggests that various scenarios have been considered, and some have been better received than others.
The proposal of pubs being able to open in April so long as they do not serve alcohol was ridiculed by landlords, who argued that implementing such a “bizarre” restriction would prevent many businesses from reopening.
Another possibility is allowing pubs and restaurants to open and to serve but with outdoor service only.
Venues with beer gardens or access to an outside space would benefit from such an al fresco arrangement, but those that can only offer indoor service (an environment with a higher risk of the virus spreading) could be prevented from opening – a situation that many owners have said would mean the end of their business.
The most likely outcome for pubs and restaurants at the moment appears to be allowing them to reopen, but with strict mixing rules. This could mean only two households can sit together indoors, with the “rule of six” being reintroduced for those dining or drinking together outdoors.
A “rule of six” outdoors may also pave the way for outdoor amateur sports such as football, rugby, cricket and hockey to return, albeit with amended mixing rules.
The rule of six could relate to indoor activity. This would mean a group of friends or family might be able to dine or drink together indoors at a pub or a restaurant.
The relaxation would involve pubs and restaurants returning to how they were being operated in early November before the second national lockdown.
This involved table service only and masks to be work when not at the table. It is unclear at this stage whether a “substantial meal” would be needed to order a pint, as was the case in September.
“Can I book a summer holiday?” has been a question at the forefront of people’s minds during the third national lockdown.
In July, the hospitality and “staycation” sector may be given the go-ahead to reopen, albeit with social distancing in place.
There has been confusion within Parliament as to what people should do. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said no one should be planning a summer holiday either in Britain or abroad, and Mr Johnson told reporters it was “too early” to determine whether people could go on holiday this summer.
However, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, told backbench Tory MPs that he had booked a holiday in Cornwall and was reportedly “optimistic” about the summer.
Uncertainty – especially surrounding new mutations of the virus – remains at the forefront of ministers’ minds. This means that any roadmap is subject to change.
The entire roadmap is likely to be subject to one big caveat – if cases, deaths, hospitalisations, transmissions or new variants rise, we could be plunged back into lockdown.
While the vaccine rollout continues, the Prime Minister has stressed there is still not enough data about the impact of vaccines on reducing the spread of infection to pick reopening dates, likening early results on that front to “straws in the wind”.
Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said clear evidence that Covid vaccines were driving down death rates might only be made public “in the next few weeks”.
The Government has been urged by the health service to focus on “data, not just dates” when Mr Johnson sets out his roadmap. And through his cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, it appears he is going to allow the data to drive the decisions in an attempt to avoid something nobody wants – a fourth national lockdown.
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News – Lockdown timeline: How Boris Johnson’s roadmap to lifting restrictions might look