Boris unveils UK's roadmap out of lockdown

Boris Johnson has revealed the UK’s four-step roadmap out of lockdown, starting with the reopening of schools in two weeks, and, if successful, culminating in the removal of all COVID-related social contact limits by the end of June.

The success of the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme is one factor in the roadmap to a ‘new normal’; so far over 17 million people have received a vaccine.

Although absolute case numbers remain relatively high, and the threat from new COVID-19 variants still remains, England’s ‘measured exit’ from lockdown begins in the first week of March, with a new step every four weeks or so:

Step 1

The 8th March will see the return of pupils and students to educational settings. Twice-weekly rapid testing for secondary and college pupils will be introduced.

From this date, people will also be allowed to leave home for recreation and exercise outdoors with any household or support bubble, if they are eligible for one, or with one person from outside their household. Care home residents will also be allowed one regular visitor.

From 29th March, when most schools start to break up for the Easter holidays, outdoor gatherings (including in private gardens) of either 6 people (the Rule of 6) or 2 households will also be allowed.

Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts, and open-air swimming pools, will also be allowed to reopen, and people will be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.

From 29th March, the ‘stay at home’ rule will end, but many restrictions will remain in place. People will be advised to continue to work from home where they can and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible, avoiding travel at the busiest times and routes. Travel abroad will continue to be prohibited, other than for a small number of permitted reasons. Holidays abroad will not be permitted. Global travel restrictions are expected to be reviewed on 12th April.

Step 2

From 12th April at the earliest, ‘non-essential retail’ may open; personal care premises such as hairdressers and nail salons; and public buildings, including libraries and community centres. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will also reopen (but only for use by people on their own or in household groups); as will most outdoor attractions and settings including outdoor hospitality venues, zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas. Self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, may also reopen.

Hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors, although customers must order, eat and drink while seated. Wider social contact rules will apply.

While funerals can continue with up to 30 mourners, the number of people able to attend weddings, receptions and commemorative events such as wakes will rise to 15.

Step 3

From 17th May at the earliest, limits may be eased for meeting friends and family, although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal. Indoors, the Rule of 6 or 2 households will apply.

Most businesses in all but the highest risk sectors will be able to reopen. In all sectors, COVID-Secure guidance will remain in place and businesses may not cater for groups bigger than the legal limits.

Entertainment venues such as cinemas and the rest of the accommodation sector, including hotels, will open; as will some larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number), and in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number). In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend (or a quarter-full, whichever is lower).

Step 4

From 21st June at the earliest, and assuming the success of each prior step, the government hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact, as well as rules on social distancing and face coverings. It will be at this point that guidance for businesses on working from home will be announced. In the meantime, those that can work from home should continue to do so.

COVID “remains a part of our lives”

Businesses have been urged to continue to take necessary precautions as restrictions ease; and the government is set to update its COVIDSecure guidance to provide further advice on how businesses can improve fresh air flow in indoor workplaces and introduce regular testing to reduce risk.

In January, the Government offered regular asymptomatic testing for people who have to leave home for work. So far over 12,000 UK organisations have registered, and over three million tests have been distributed. This offer of free test kits to workplaces for staff who cannot work at home will be extended to until the end of June.

UK caterer, Apetito, was an early adopter of workplace testing. Early engagement with its staff has meant an extremely high participation rate: only one member of the cohort of staff initially invited has opted not to take part. Having begun with 500 staff involved in manufacturing and distribution, they have now expanded to their delivery drivers. After 5,000 tests, positivity is around 1.2% - meaning they have found 66 asymptomatic cases they would otherwise not have found, allowing their business to continue functioning effectively.

CBI: A great start, but 'hard yards' ahead

Welcoming the “pragmatic and safe” route out of lockdown, the CBI said businesses could now play their full part in the country’s recovery; while the government can extend its support through the upcoming Budget.

“The Prime Minister’s roadmap offers hope that the country can get back to business in the coming months,” director-general, Tony Danker commented. “The roadmap is a good starting point to the hard yards ahead and caution is rightly the watchword. Business backs the step-by-step approach to re-opening and put an end to damaging stop-start restrictions. And getting children back into the classroom first is as much a priority for business as it is for families across the country.

“We now need to turn this roadmap into genuine economic momentum. The Budget is the second half of this announcement -- extending business support in parallel to restrictions will give firms a bridge to the other side. This is particularly needed for sectors who will have to wait for up to three months to re-open and have an anxious 10 days ahead before the Budget.

“Meanwhile businesses are committed to working with government to refresh practical guidance for firms and to fast-track the roll out of tests in workplaces in the months ahead.

“With good news coming every day on the vaccines, the roadmap offers a pragmatic and safe route out of lockdown in England. Businesses will play their full part in doing so with public health in mind and the confidence to kickstart a recovery.”

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