Last week, the Prime Minister announced our detailed roadmap out of lockdown. Giving us hope we will soon start to see life return closer to normal. This plan is cautious, steady, and based on science; we want to make sure we can safely lift restrictions we have all had to live under for the best part of a year.
The roadmap includes four stages, each five weeks apart. If all goes to plan and we continue with the great efforts everyone has been making to drive case numbers down, the last restrictions will be lifted on 21st of June.
The 5-week gap between stages is significant, because that time is enough to gauge the impact on the virus of the previous stage. We can rebalance the plans if impacts of lifting restrictions is more than expected.
In order to reach each stage, we must ensure four stipulations are met:
The vaccine rollout must proceed on time, every adult offered a vaccine by 31st of July, with all more vulnerable people vaccinated in coming weeks.
Secondly, vaccines must continue to be effective at reducing death and hospitalisation. Data from Israel, where their vaccine programme is one of the only places in the world ahead of ours, indicates good news on this front.
Thirdly, potential rising infection rates cannot risk a quick increase in hospitalisations. Although some rises and outbreaks are expected as we unlock, it would only be cause for concern if this translated into a large rise in hospitalisations.
Lastly, there must be no additional risks from other COVID variants. At present, vaccines are proving effective against variants such as the South Africa variant. However, we do need to continue our genome work to identify new variants, and nip them in the bud. Again we are ahead of the world on this front, given around half of the world genome capability is in the UK.
If all of these are met, which we have no reason to expect they won’t, we will be able to progress through stages with 5-week gaps. Importantly this cautious approach will mean the risks of us having to reimpose restrictions, which none of us want to see, can be kept to absolute minimum.
I am delighted stage one (8th March), sees schools re-open to all children. I know our teachers locally have made huge efforts to ensure schools can fully reopen safely. As a parent myself, I know how important education is - and I know how tough the pressures on families have been over the last few months. It will be vital our young people are supported to catch-up and I will be ensuring Government understand the importance of prioritising resources needed.
Still in stage one on March 29th, outdoor sports such as tennis and football will resume. Importantly, from this date onwards the rule of six will resume outdoors, meaning you can meet up to six people or two different households outside. The ‘stay at home’ rule will end but people will still be encouraged to work from home where they can.
Moving to stage two (12th April), non-essential shops including hairdressers and beauty salons will open, alongside gyms, zoos, theme parks, libraries, community centres, and outdoor hospitality (pub gardens). Although these premises will reopen, strict guidance remains around meeting other people and maintaining distancing.
Stage three (17th May) is where socialising can really restart, as groups of up to 30 may meet outdoors, outdoor events such as football matches can allow spectators in (in limited numbers), indoor entertainment can reopen, and domestic overnight stays can restart. Also for the many who raised it with me, this stage is where 30-person weddings can restart.
The last stage, stage four (21st June) is where things can get back to as normal as possible for this year- there will be no legal limits on social contact, nightclubs will reopen, and there will be no limit for weddings for funerals.
Although it may seem far away, that we are able to lay out such a roadmap at all is thanks to everyone’s efforts closely following the restrictions to get case numbers down and our extraordinary vaccine rollout. All these stages and the further lifting of restrictions will be entirely dependent upon on us all continuing this excellent progress.
More than 19 million vaccines have now been administered in the UK, equivalent to 1 in 3 adults. We are well on track with the most vulnerable and we should have offered a first dose to all adults in the UK by the end of July. Huge thanks must go to all our NHS workers and volunteers who have made this incredible vaccination effort possible.
On this note, I must again urge everyone to trust our NHS and get their jab when they are offered, currently this is everyone over 65, adults in an at-risk category and frontline health and care workers. This roadmap out depends on us all getting vaccinated as soon as possible, with the most vulnerable prioritised first, and continuing to follow the guidelines to get cases down.