Words by Luke Thomson
On 22 February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his announcement for his “cautious roadmap” out of what is hopefully the last lockdown in England.
The lifting of restrictions will come every five weeks, allowing for a monthly review of cases, followed by a week for citizens and businesses.
Before each stage is announced, there will be four key criteria that must be matched before the policies go ahead.
- The continuing success of the vaccine programme
- Numbers of deaths / hospitalisations majorly reduced because of said vaccines
- The reduction of infection rates, especially those linked to hospital admissions
- No new variations of the coronavirus starting to develop in mass
If all goes well, the lockdown will be gradually reduced in a four-stage plan, beginning on 8 March, and finally concluding on 21 June. These dates are not set in stone.
The first stage will come in two parts. On 8 March, all students in primary, secondary and college schools will return. Secondary school kids will be made to wear masks in class, as well as teachers and staff.
Students at university taking at least partially practical subjects can start to return, but most have been told to stay home until the end of the Easter holidays, subject to review.
People will be allowed to meet one other person from another household for social recreation, and one nominated person will also be given the chance to visit a loved one in care homes.
The second part of this stage comes in (all things permitted) on 29 March. This will extend outside meeting to the infamous “rule of six”, or another single household. Sports courts such as tennis and basketball also return from this time.
What has confused many has been the advice that “parent and child” groups may meet up in numbers of 15 outside. Whether this is to do with school activities, or just general social meetups is not explicitly clear, and neither is if children count in the general rule of six.
Stage two is planned to commence on 12 April, the main change here being that most non-essential retail will finally be allowed to return. This includes general shops and goods, as well as the spiritual comeback of hairdressers, gyms and beauty salons.
It is even true that outside service in pubs and restaurants will be allowed, including the service of alcohol without the disastrous scotch egg inducing substantial meal rule. Domestic holidays will also commence in some accommodations.
Stage three is then due on 17 May. This will extend outdoor meets to as many as 30 people, even allowing indoor meets of two households as well.
Pub and restaurant service is expected to return in full capacity and also the casual rollback of venues such as museums and cinemas.
Controversially, some outside stadia will be allowed to return to capacities as high as 10,000, and even some indoor venues could have as many as 1,000. A little odd considering the indoor meet up rule of just two households.
Finally, a full return to life is expected on 21 June, ironically the birthday weekend of Mr Johnson!
This date will see all remaining limits on socialising lifted, including events such as concerts, bars, and of course, our treasured nightclubs.
Major events such as weddings and festivals, despite being allowed to go ahead, will have some level of testing held before to ensure no major outbreaks recur.
It is crucial to note that all of these stages are planned for England only, devolution ensures that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be making their own plans for lifting resections.
The policies have been met with some resistance in the Conservative party. The 70 MP led “Covid Recovery Group” believe the policies are too cautious and desire for all limits on social contact to be gone by May.
This group is unlikely to get anything done though, as both the general parliament, as well as the public as a whole seems to be fairly pleased by the sensible plan.
In the long term, Matt Hancock stated that things such as mask wearing and social distancing will gradually shift away from being official law, to more “a matter of personal responsibility”.
Hancock also admitted that whilst plans are to majorly reduce the spread of the virus, it is highly unrealistic for us to expect a complete eradication of Covid, it is something he says, “we will have to live with like the flu”.
Picture Credit: Number 10