UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to table a “cautious” roadmap in Parliament on Monday to ease the country out of the strict stay-at-home lockdown in place to control the spread of coronavirus infections. The strategy, to be finalised at a virtual Cabinet meeting, will set out the latest data on infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as early data showing the efficacy of vaccines.
Based on the latest Covid-19 statistics, Johnson is expected to confirm that all schools will reopen across England from March 8 and that families and friends can begin to be reunited outdoors under a return of the “rule of six” for gatherings later in March.
Members of Parliament will vote on the regulations, following which the final roadmap will kick into action in the coming weeks.
“Today I’ll be setting out a roadmap to bring us out of lockdown cautiously. Our priority has always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing, and we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely,” said Johnson, ahead of his statement in the House of Commons.
“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe. We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan,” he said.
The key tests cover four aspects: the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations, which would put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service (NHS); and the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new “variants of concern”.
Before proceeding to the next step, the government said it will examine the data to assess the impact of previous easements.
Due to the current relatively uniform spread of the virus across the country, restrictions will be eased step-by-step across the whole of England at the same time.
Downing Street said that the four tests are currently being met so the first step will proceed from March 8, at which point the top four priority cohorts for vaccinations – as determined by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – will have received a degree of immunity, three weeks after being offered their first dose.
The roadmap is described as a means to balance social and economic impacts, whilst preserving health and safety. Outdoor settings are known to be lower risk than indoor in keeping infection rates low, so outdoor activities will be opened earlier than indoor ones.
The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been setting out their own roadmaps for easing lockdown, but are in most part following a similar phased approach.
As part of the new roadmap, Public Health England (PHE) will publish new data on the impact of vaccines on transmission rates.
Early data suggests a reduction in transmission of the virus in people who have had a vaccine.
So far, more than 17.5 million people in the UK have received a vaccine dose and over the weekend the government set a new July 31 target to ensure all adults have received their jabs to protect against the deadly virus.