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It is hoped that England’s third national lockdown, which came as the UK’s Covid alert level climbed to five, will prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by a surge in new coronavirus infections as vaccination is rolled out.
How long will lockdown last?
The lockdown came into effect following the announcement on 4 January, with the Prime Minister offering “the middle of February” as a tentative date for measures to begin easing – although this has subsequently been extended to 8 March at the earliest.
Mr Johnson said: “By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.”
He added that “we should remain cautious about the timetable ahead,” but said there was cause for hope if the vaccination programme rolls out as planned and deaths fall as a result.
The Prime Minister said: “Then I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown, reopening schools after the February half term and starting, cautiously, to move regions down the tiers.”
However, a day after the announcement, Michael Gove suggested that it is more likely the lockdown will remain in place until March.
He told Sky News: “I think it is right to say that, as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all.”
On Sunday 17 January, Dominic Raab also indicated that, as long as the Government’s vaccination programme continued to progress, lockdown could begin to be eased from March.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think it is fair to say it won’t be a big bang, if you like, it will be done phased, possibly back through the tiered approach that we had before.”
The Prime Minister was then questioned on whether the rules could remain in place until the summer on Thursday 21 January, responding: “I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of the restrictions.”
Downing Street later refused to rule out the possibility that the restrictions could last into the summer months, saying only: “We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.”
This outcome was further hinted at by reports in The Telegraph, which suggested there will not be a full relaxation of the rules until all over-50s have had their vaccine, meaning the country could return to “normal” in the first week of July.
On 27 January, the Prime Minister announced that measures will remain in place until at least 8 March – the target date for schools reopening.
He added that the “economic and social restrictions” could be eased “then or thereafter,” and it is unlikely that there will be any acceleration of this given that schools remain the Government’s stated priority.
The Government is set to publish its “plan for taking the country out of lockdown” in the week commencing Monday 22 February.
This timetable is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February and then giving the jab time to take effect.
What are England’s lockdown rules?
The lockdown is being enshrined in law and police can take action if people leave home without a reasonable excuse.
- People must only leave the house for limited reasons, such as shopping for necessities such as food and medicine, providing care or voluntary aid, or medical reasons.
- Exercise will be allowed – preferably limited to once a day – with members of your household or support bubble or one other person from another household.
- People will be able to go to work if it is impossible to work from home, such as those in the construction sector or who are critical workers. All others must work from home.
- All primary and secondary schools and colleges move to remote learning, except for the children of keyworkers or vulnerable children, but early years settings such as nurseries and childminders can stay open.
- University students will not be allowed to return to campus and will be expected to study from home.
- Places of worship can remain open for individual prayers and communal worship, but weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are allowed only in exceptional circumstances,
- All non-essential shops, hairdressers and personal care salons must close, although supermarkets, pharmacies, off-licences, builders’ merchants and garden centres are among businesses which can stay open.
- Restaurants and other hospitality venues can continue with delivery or takeaway (excluding alcohol) – cinemas, skating rinks and bowling alleys must remain closed.
- Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and who were previously told to shield should stay at home and only leave for medical appointments and exercise.
- Visits to care homes can take place only with “substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows”.
- Playgrounds can stay open but gyms (indoor and outdoor), tennis courts, swimming pools and golf courses must close, and outdoor team sports will not be permitted – although the Premier League and other elite sports can continue.
- The buying and selling of houses can continue, but people should not ask others outside their support bubble to help them move.
- Overnight stays outside support bubbles and holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed, including staying in a second home or caravan.
Additional reporting from Press Association
— to inews.co.uk