BORIS Johnson will reveal the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown today – the first step on our slow return to normality.
The Prime Minister will speak in the House of Commons at 3pm outlining a covid plan he says will prioritise reopening schools and reuniting families.
The first date for the diary will be March 8 when schools will reopen and Brits can once again meet one friend or family member in an outside space for a picnic or a coffee.
Assuming all goes well with that easing, the next significant milestone will be March 29 when outdoors gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, reuniting friends for the first time in months.
The same date will also see the return on outdoor sports such as tennis, golf and even football, Boris will announce today.
But the news will come as a blow to hairdressers, who will be told they can’t reopen to customers until April, and also to pubs and restaurants who will remain shut for anything other than takeaways until May.
Beyond that, Boris is expected to say he hopes for the rules of six can be scrapped altogether by June and the UK return to a true sense of normality, albeit with social distancing in place, by July.
But the PM will make clear that for each step to be taken, benchmark numbers will need to be met on Covid cases, hospital admissions, vaccinations and deaths.
After his announcement in the Commons, Boris will make a televised announcement to the nation at 7pm this evening.
Follow our live blog below for the very latest on the UK ‘s path out of lockdown…
MERKEL WANTS A THREE-STAGE PLAN TO LIFT COVID CURBS
German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants a staggered plan to lift pandemic-linked restrictions that is linked to increased testing, she told a meeting of her Christian Democrats leadership committee according to two participants.
Merkel wants to reopen parts of society in three stages, starting with expanding the number of personal contacts, followed by schools and vocational schools, and then sports groups, restaurants and culture.
She told the meeting it was important that steps to lift restrictions did not lead to renewed setbacks by causing virus variants to spread further.
HOW LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS WILL BE EASED IN ENGLAND
The changes are expected to be rolled out in four stages.
Before each new step the Government will look at the Covid-related data to assess what impact the relaxing of measures has had so far.
Mr Johnson said the Government will be “cautious” in its approach.
Measures will be eased, step by step, across the whole of England at the same time because the virus is viewed to be fairly uniformly spread across the country.
STARMER PREPARED TO GIVE ‘CREDIT’ FOR GOVT ROLLOUT OF VACCINE
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he is “prepared to give credit” to those leading the rollout of the Covid vaccination programme.
Asked on LBC whether he would give credit to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his leadership on Britain’s vaccination programme, so far, Mr Starmer said “I’m prepared to give credit to everybody involved in the vaccination programme”.
“It has been rolled out at speed, maybe by the NHS or the frontline,” he said.
OUTDOOR SPORTS ‘CAN RETURN FROM MARCH 29’ BUT WAIT GOES ON FOR INDOOR ACTIVITIES
Outdoor sports will return from March 29, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to outline his road map for the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the House of Commons at 3.30pm on Monday.
Outdoor activities are set to be opened earlier than indoor ones, due to the reduced risk of spreading coronavirus outside.
This means venues like tennis and basketball courts could reopen while organised adult and children’s sport – including grassroots football – can also return from March 29.
But indoor sites such as gyms and swimming pools face a longer wait to reopen.
“The simple way to look at this is that outdoor is safer and therefore we prioritise versus indoor,” Zahawi told LBC.
“Outdoor sports – tennis, golf, outdoor organised team sports, grassroots football – will go back on March 29.”
POUND HITS THREE-YEAR HIGH
Britain moved faster than many other Western countries to secure vaccine supplies and has been inoculating people rapidly since December, a strategy that has driven sterling and stock markets higher on hopes of an economic rebound.
The pound hit a new three-year high of $1.4050 in early London trading on Monday.
Some 17.6 million Britons, over a quarter of the 67 million population, have now received a first dose, behind only Israel and the United Arab Emirates in vaccines per head of population. The government aims to give a first dose to all adults by the end of July.
NO ‘BIG BANG’ WITH LIFTING COVID RESTRICTIONS
There will be no “big bang” over lifting the Covid restrictions with government ministers emphasising a “cautious but irreversible” approach.
Downing Street believes a gradual easing of restrictions is the best course of action.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to set out his four-stage roadmap to the House of Commons this afternoon.
FIVE WEEKS BETWEEN LIFTING LOCKDOWN STAGES
There will be at least five weeks between each stage in lifting the lockdown, as part of Boris Johnson’s “cautious” strategy.
The Prime Minister will tell MPs that all pupils in all years in England can go back to the classroom from March 8, with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed to restart as well.
The moves form the first step in a four-part plan, which will not be completed until the summer – with around five weeks between stages expected to assess the impact on the spread of the virus and prepare businesses for the next move.
By the Easter holidays the “rule of six” will return, along with new measures allowing two households totalling more than six people to meet – giving greater flexibility for families and friends.
GOVT SHOULD HAVE USED HALF-TERM TO VACCINATE TEACHERS – STARMER
Sir Keir Starmer said it was “frustrating” that the Government did not use half-term to vaccinate teachers and school staff.
Appearing on LBC to take questions from the public, the Labour leader said: “I want all of our schools ideally opened on March 8, that’s what the Prime Minister has said, and we want to see that ideally happen.”
Asked why he had said “ideally”, Sir Keir said: “I feel like a broken record on this, I’m slightly frustrated.
“Back in September I said to the Government, have a plan, if you’re going to get children back you need ventilation, you need proper testing.
“I have always said Nightingale classrooms. If you can put them up for hospitals, if you need more space in your schools, put your Nightingale classrooms up.
“We just had half-term and I said to the Government, use that to vaccinate teachers and school staff before we go back to school. They didn’t do it and it is frustrating.”
SCHOOLS, SOCIALISING AND SPORTS TO RETURN IN MARCH UNDER PM’S ROAD MAP
Schools, socialising and some sports are set to return next month under the Government’s plan to relax coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell MPs that all pupils in all years can go back to the classroom from March 8, with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed to restart as well.
Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted in a fortnight when the rules are relaxed to allow people to sit down for a drink or picnic.
A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin – with larger groups allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
The “rule of six” will return along with new measures allowing two households totalling more than six people to meet – giving greater flexibility for families and friends.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts are also set to reopen at the end of next month.
FOUR TESTS FOR LIFTING LOCKDOWN ARE MET
Number 10 has said the four tests needed to allow lockdown to begin have been met.
It confirmed the first stage of lifting the restrictions will begin on March 8.
STARMER WARNS JOHNSON NOT TO REPEAT ‘MISTAKES’ OVER LIFTING LOCKDOWN
Sir Kier Starmer has warned Boris Johnson not to repeat the “mistakes” when lifting the restrictions on previous Covid lockdowns.
“I want the Prime Minister to learn the lessons of the last two lockdowns,” the Labour leader told LBC. “I think he came out too quickly, without caution, and that caused problems because we went back into lockdown.
“Everybody – and I think the Prime Minister is in this place now – wants this to be the last lockdown. So come out cautiously, carefully – that’s the language he is using, so I’m looking for that this afternoon.
“That will inevitably mean restrictions for a bit longer so businesses desperately need a bit more support – business rate relief, VAT for hospitality – because they are going to struggle for another few months.”
KEY ROADMAP DATES IN APRIL
It will be Mid-April before hairdressers are able to open along with non-essential shops, while restaurants and pubs will be able to serve customers outdoors.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the UK’s vaccinations programme is “beginning to really bear fruit” meaning restrictions can be loosened.
But the vaccines minister warned No 10 could yet slam the brakes on the unlocking if the virus starts to spread again.
Read more about the roadmap plan.
KEY ROADMAP DATES IN MARCH
MARCH 8 – schoolkids return to the classroom
On the same date two people from different households will also be allowed to meet up outside for the first time in months.
MARCH 29 – the stay at home message will be scrapped and two households of any size will be allowed to meet outdoors.
The rule of six rule will also return for outside mixing, allowing people to gather with their friends in groups.
And Brits will be free to play outdoor sports again, such as golf and tennis.
Under the new rules people will be able to travel across the country to meet up with friends and relatives outdoors.
JOHNSON TO FOLLOW THE DATA
Adding to his Twitter message, Johnson added: 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.”
JOHNSON SAYS HE’LL TAKE ‘CAUTIOUS’ APPROACH
Boris Johnson has said he will take a “cautious approach to easing the lockdown restrictions and will always follow the data.
The Prime Minister took to Twitter this morning to outline his roadmap to take the country out of the Covid lockdown.
He wrote: “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 and wellbeing. We’ll also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.”
TEACHERS SHOULDN’T STRIKE OVER RETURN TO CLASSROOM – STARMER
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer has said he does not support possible industrial action by teachers over the return to the classroom on March 8.
Speaking on LBC radio, he said schools needed better ventilation and testing and once again called for teachers to be vaccinated as a priority.
“I don’t think there should be industrial action,” the Labour leader said, although he stressed that unions had done much to support teachers during this pandemic.”
ZAHAWI ‘HAPPY’ TO EXAMINE OTHER DATA ON VACCINE ROLLOUT
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he will “happily” look at what other data can be made available on the vaccine rollout, after statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter called the lack of detailed data “upsetting”.
Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As of last week, NHS England have published CCG (clinical commissioning group) level data across England, which I think was important.
“We collect ethnicity data and we publish that, and we work with directors of public health and local government to share mid-level data, without obviously in any way jeopardising people’s privacy and personal health data.
“But all that work continues at pace. Data is our ally in this vaccination rollout and we continue to do more.
“I didn’t listen to Professor Spiegelhalter, with your interview, but I’ll happily look at what else we can do.”
JOHNSON: ROADMAP PRIORITY IS GETTING KIDS BACK IN SCHOOL
Boris Johnson has said the priority for his roadmap to ease the Covid restrictions has always been getting kids back to the classroom.
He has warned though that any decision made about easing the lockdown rules will always be made on the data at every step.
NO MORE TIERS
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the road map was about the “gradual reopening of the whole of England” rather than a regional lifting of restrictions.
Asked if the tier system would return, he told LBC: “I think because the way this new variant actually took hold, which has become the dominant variant, the Kent variant, in the United Kingdom, infection rates around the country pretty much rose to similar, very high, unsustainable levels.
“So the view is very much that this is about a gradual reopening of the whole of England, not regional.”
SUNAK SOFTENS LOCKDOWN APPROACH
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has softened his approach to the easing of lockdown regulations in recent days, reports suggest.
In recent months there has been a division in the Cabinet between doves such as Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and backed by Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, against the hawks, led by Rishi Sunak.
Sunak is said to have been pressing for a quicker easing of the Covid restrictions.
But now the Telegraph reports Sunak has softened his approach.
A Cabinet Minister told the paper: “Rishi has definitely switched tack. His main focus is now hospitalisation.”
CABINET TO MEET AT 10AM
Cabinet will meet at 10am today to sign off Boris Johnson’s roadmap to ease the lockdown restrictions.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis told Sky News that making lockdown irreversible is “the single most important criteria” in the Government’s strategy.
The Government should double its vaccine rollout to a million doses a day, he added “so that we get through herd immunity maybe as early as June, and then we are ready for future variants to start vaccinating again in September”.
UNLIKELY PUBS WILL REOPEN FOR ANOTHER TWO MONTHS
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, has said it was unlikely pubs would reopening for another two months.
“Please find a way to open our pubs in a commercially viable way as soon as possible,” she asked Boris Johnson.
“It’s looking like we may still unfortunately be closed for another two months – and then with a possibility to only open outdoors – and that of course is not 60 per cent of our venues.”
She added: “It looks more likely we’ll be closed for three months so we’ll need a support package to see us through that.”
SCIENTIST WARN LOCKDOWN LIFT MUST BE GRADUAL TO PREVENT SURGE IN HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS
Scientists have urged caution for lifting restrictions, with leading epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds warning that any easing of the lockdown must be gradual to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.
Restrictions will be relaxed step-by-step across the whole of England at the same time, Downing Street confirmed, due to the current uniform spread of the virus.
Number 10 said the road map would seek to balance the health needs with the social and economic impacts of lockdown.
For example, outdoor activities are set to be opened earlier than indoor ones, due to the reduced risk of spreading coronavirus outside.
MPs will be given the chance to vote on the regulations enabling the road map in the coming weeks.
MEDICINES REGULATOR INVESTIGATES FIRM WHICH WON £30M OF COVID-RELATED WORK
The UK’s medicines regulator has confirmed it is investigating a firm which reportedly won £30 million worth of work on coronavirus tests during the pandemic.
Hinpack, a manufacturing business run by former publican Alex Bourne, partnered with a diagnostics supplier to produce specimen collection tubes and funnels for Covid-19 testing.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was investigating allegations against Hinpack.
MHRA director of devices Graeme Tunbridge said: “We take all reports of non-compliance very seriously.
“We are currently investigating the allegations about Hinpack and will take appropriate action as necessary. Patient safety is our top priority. As this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to disclose further information at this time”.
OUTDOOR SPORTS TO RETURN ON MARCH 29
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said outdoor sports are due to return on March 29, including organised team sports, but declined to say when gyms could reopen.
“The simple way to look at this is that outdoor is safer and therefore we prioritise versus indoor,” he told LBC.
“Outdoor sports – tennis, golf, outdoor organised team sports, grassroots football – will go back on March 29.”
Pushed on when gyms and fitness centres could reopen, he added: “At the moment, it’s outdoors versus indoors. Outdoors is the priority because it’s where the transmission rates are much, much, much lower.”
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