The UK government has revealed its “roadmap” for easing coronavirus restrictions. The first wave of measures easing the country out of lockdown will begin in March.
Further stages will be dependant on certain conditions, such as no new variants emerging, and the vaccine roll out continuing as planned. Current targets aim for an end to all restrictive measures by 21st June at the earliest.
Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are all due to release their own plans to guide the public out of lockdown in the next few weeks.
The first stage of lifting measures will be staggered into two parts. The first set of changes will take place on 8th March, which include: all schools and colleges to be reopened, university students being able to return for practical courses (all other courses to be reviewed after Easter), and two people from different households can meet up outside.
The other half of the first stage will begin on 29th March, with people being allowed to meet with one other household or else adhering to the rule of six. Changes will also include an end to the stay-at-home rule, although people are encouraged to keep their activities as local as possible, and outdoor sports facilities will be reopened.
If you are desperate for a haircut, you will have to wait until stage two begins from 12th April, when hairdressers and other “close contact services” are cleared to reopen. Non-essential shops can also reopen, as well as gyms, libraries, and restaurant and pub gardens.
In stage three, which begins no earlier than 17th May, up to six people or two households can meet indoors, and up to 30 people can gather outdoors. Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to offer service inside. Holidays may also be possible from late May, as international leisure travel will be resumed.
The final service to be reopened will be nightclubs, which are due to return from 21st June at the earliest, when it is thought all social distancing restrictions will be lifted for the first time in over a year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “very optimistic” that the June target is achievable, although he has clarified “nothing can be guaranteed” and asked the British public to “continue to be prudent.”
Shortly after the roadmap was announced, the government revealed a review on the use of vaccine passports. The process is to be overseen by Michael Gove, after the Prime Minister stated on Monday that ministers feel they need more information before deciding whether to implement a system of vaccine passports.
If implemented, this system would require members of the public to display a Covid status certificate before using non-essential indoor facilities, such as going into a pub or cinema.
The key to all of the government’s plans is to maintain progress with the vaccination programme. According to the latest statistics, a total of just under 17.8 million people have been given the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with 141,719 injections being administered in one day.
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has continued to decrease, the figure now standing at 18,462. This reflects a similar trend in decreasing cases of people contracting the virus, with only 10, 641 cases a day. The current death toll is at 120,757, although the rate of deaths is also diminishing.
However, these statistics could be affected by the recent discovery of three cases of the South African variant, which is thought to be more transmissible than the original strain, in Northern Ireland. The variant first appeared in the Republic of Ireland one month ago.
Studies suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective at dealing with severe symptoms of the variant, but significantly less effective at preventing mild symptoms. Scientists have suggested existing vaccines could be tweaked to fit the new strains in only a matter of weeks or months.