The Prime Minister has today announced the Government’s plans for the easing of lockdown restrictions over the coming weeks and months.
The plan – referred to as a “road map” – outlines a phased approach to unlocking parts of society and the economy, with the first phase of changes beginning on Monday 8 March 2021.
What we know so far is that plans to reopen society and the economy will happen in a four-stage process between now and the summer – if all goes to plan. Each stage will involve specific changes which will be assessed in terms of their impact before proceeding to the next stage – which will happen no sooner than five weeks later.
The Prime Minister was keen to state that this national approach is designed to be “cautious” and “irreversible” (although he did not rule out tougher local restrictions coming into force in the future if needed).
The first stage of the “road map” actually comes in two parts as outlined below:-
Stage 1 (Part 1) – from Monday 8 March 2021:
- All schools and further education settings will open to all pupils for face to face learning (this will include breakfast and after school clubs for vulnerable pupils and where such provision is needed for parents/carers to go to work or support groups or to seek medical care)
- Face coverings will be recommended in class for secondary school students and also for parents/carers and staff in primary schools
- University students studying courses which require practical assessments or learning can return (others will continue to learn remotely until a review at the end of the Easter break)
- Individuals will be allowed to meet one other person outdoors, and not just for exercise (for example two people can meet in a park for a coffee, drink, or picnic)
- No household mixing is allowed indoors
- Care home residents can receive visits from one nominated individual, who must wear personal protective equipment, test negative from a lateral flow test, and keep physical contact to a minimum
- Attendance at funerals will be limited to a maximum of 30 people, and the limit at weddings and wakes will be 6 people
Stage 1 (Part 2) – from Monday 29 March 2021:
- People will no longer be required to stay at home but should continue to work from home wherever possible and keep local travel to a minimum (holidays will still not be allowed)
- One household will be permitted to meet with another household – outdoors only, including in private gardens
- People will be permitted to meet outdoors, including in private gardens – subject to the “rule of 6”
- Outdoor sports (such as tennis, golf etc.) will be allowed to re-commence
- Outdoor parent and child groups will be allowed up to a maximum of 15 (indoor groups will be allowed for vulnerable children and where parents/carers need such groups in order to go to work)
All Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people will be advised to continue to shield until the end of March 2021.
Councillor Graham Morgan, the Leader of Knowsley Council, commented:-
“The latest lockdown has been really tough on everyone and I know how much people want to know what comes next for them and their loved ones. Hopefully the announcements today will at least provide some dates for people to focus on, especially for families and schools who can now plan with some certainty for 8 March 2021.
Although we know this may not be the news which some people and business wanted to hear, we know from previous experience that unlocking society too soon and when the virus is still transmitting widely just results in more people becoming ill. We cannot afford to do that again. Everyone wants this lockdown to be the last one, so we need to emerge from it cautiously and keep a close eye on local and national COVID-19 case levels so we can ensure that major spikes in case numbers are avoided.”
Before proceeding to Stage 2 of the Road Map – which will come into force no earlier than Monday 12 April 2021 – there will be a review of the impact of the changes in Stage 1.
Alongside this, the Government will continue to monitor how well the vaccination programme is progressing, how effective the vaccine is at reducing serious illness or hospitalisation, how well hospitals are coping, and if there are any new variants causing particular concerns.
Each new stage will be confirmed one week prior to the changes coming into force, and the Prime Minister confirmed that he would not rule out local restrictions if required in the future to control outbreaks of the virus.
Further details about the easing of restrictions and the road map can be found on the Government’s website.