Boris Johnson has set Britain on a “one way road to freedom”, after unveiling a four-point plan to lift lockdown by summer.
The plan could see the bulk of Covid restrictions, which have been a feature of everyday life for almost a year, abolished in England by June 21.
Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland will follow a “broadly similar” route out of lockdown, meaning the majority of restrictions could also be lifted for Scots by summer.
Downing Street has emphasised that the plan will be led by data and could be subject to change, but March 8, March 29, April 12, May 17, and June 21 have provisionally been pencilled in for the easing of restrictions down south.
On March 8 students will return to schools and colleges, people will be permitted to meet with one other person for recreation outdoors and care homes will begin accepting one named visitor.
From March 29 outdoor gatherings in private gardens or public spaces of up to six people from two households will be allowed, along with outdoor sport.
Significantly, the stay-at-home order will end and messaging will shift to “stay local”.
Non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, theme parks and zoos will get the go-ahead from April 12.
Outside dining and drinking will also be permitted, with current social contact rules applied.
From May 17 Number 10 hope to lift most social contact rules – allowing indoor mixing at home or in pubs and restaurants.
By June 21 the hope is that all restrictions will be lifted, allowing nightclubs to open and large performances to go ahead.
‘Data, not dates’
Making a statement in the Commons, the prime minister acknowledged “the threat remains substantial” with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave in April.
Modelling by the Sage scientific advisory panel showed “we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and, sadly, more deaths”.
But there is “no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain or, indeed, a zero-Covid world and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing and the life chances of our children”.
Mr Johnson said his approach would be driven by “data, not dates”, with the five-week gap between stages allowing time for the impact on infections to be determined and for companies to get ready.
Progress on the next steps out of lockdown will depend on meeting four tests: the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, an assessment of new variants, and keeping infection rates below a level that could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
Alongside the four-step plan, the prime minister launched a series of reviews, including on the Covid status certificates.
Officials acknowledged that there are moral and ethical questions, as well as practical ones, for any such move.
A further piece of work to conclude by June 21 will examine social distancing requirements, the use of face masks and requirements to work from home.
A series of pilot events will also be held from April using enhanced testing and other measures to examine how larger crowds could be allowed to attend sporting events or performances.
Mr Johnson said: “I know there will be many people who will be worried that we are being too ambitious and that it is arrogant to impose any kind of plan upon a virus.
“I agree that we must always be humble in the face of nature and we must be cautious but I really also believe that the vaccination programme has dramatically changed the odds in our favour and it is on that basis that we can now proceed.
“Of course, there will be others who will believe that we could go faster on the basis of that vaccination programme and I understand their feelings and I sympathise very much with the exhaustion and the stress that people are experiencing and that businesses are experiencing after so long in lockdown.
“But to them I say that the end really is in sight and a wretched year will give way to a spring and a summer that will be very different and incomparably better than the picture we see around us today.”
‘Broad similarities’ in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon has said the data for the nations is different but the principles of easing restrictions will be the same.
She is due to set out plans for a gradual lifting of the current lockdown at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said: “Our plans out of lockdown will not be identical, they are already not identical because we’ve got some kids back in school today, which is not the case in England until into March, so we will not be identical but I think there will be broad similarities.”
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