England has now been in its third full lockdown for a month and the long, slow winter is trudging on.
But there’s good news on the horizon, with more than 10million people now given a first dose of Covid vaccine – and early signs the Oxford jab reduces transmission of the virus by 67% – and Chris Whitty saying on February 3 we are ‘past the peak’.
That’s prompted calls for Boris Johnson to bring forward his plan to ease lockdown, which begins on March 8 by opening schools.
As Scotland announced schools would likely reopen from February 22, Tory MPs on the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group warned England must have a very good reason not to do the same.
But with case rates higher in England than Scotland, and deaths still higher than 1,000 a day, the PM is so far sticking firmly to his plan. He says he’ll bring forward a lockdown easing plan in the week of February 22, with no changes before March 8.
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Reports – denied as “b*****ks” by his allies – suggest Chancellor Rishi Sunak is pushing for measures to ease as soon as deaths are down, believing there may soon be a “fat lady sings” moment when cases stay high but deaths plunge due to vaccine immunity kicking in.
But with more easily transmissible mutant strains emerging in the UK, and the nation passing the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths, scientific advisors are urging caution.
The government has also failed to introduce forced quarantine in hotels for Brits returning from 33 ‘red list’ countries where there are new variants. It was promised at the end of January but may only launch on February 15.
The vaccine will be key. Even though care home residents have now been offered the jab, Care Minister Helen Whately has suggested normal visits may only resume once most have had their second dose in April.
Meanwhile, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has said it’ll only be after all over-50s have got the jab that pressure on the NHS will “significantly reduce”.
The original plan was to get all over-50s their first dose by the end of April.
But in a glimmer of hope, privately Whitehall sources believe that could happen quicker. Some murmurings even claim every UK adult could be offered both doses by the end of August.
So with all these variables at play, what might the lockdown exit roadmap look like? And how will the next few months go down?
Here’s everything we know – or can guess – so far.
Tory ministers claimed they had met their target to offer a first dose of the vaccine to all residents in England’s care homes.
However, more than 100 care homes had not yet been fully reached because they had an active outbreak.
There was also confusion about how many staff had had a jab and the government refused to provide firm figures. A minister said staff were still being worked through, only for another minister to claim the staff target had been met.
Despite the vaccine breakthrough, normal care home visits are not expected to resume for months. Except for exceptions like deathbed visits, they have to be conducted outdoors or through pods or screens.
This is the date of the review of the third lockdown in England, as set by the Prime Minister at the start of January.
By this date the Government should have a clearer picture of whether the lockdown has worked. Plans will be brought forward the following week.
Importantly, this is also the deadline for offering the first dose of a vaccine to all 15million of the most vulnerable people in the UK.
They are all over-70s; all elderly care home residents and their carers; all shielders; and frontline NHS and social care staff.
After this, officials will move on to administering first doses to the next priority groups – all over-50s and younger “at risk” groups.
Separately, around this time the government’s advisors are meant to rule on how priority will work for the final phase of the vaccine rollout – in other words, whether teachers, shop workers and police will get it first.
Finally, February 15 is the rumoured date when hotel quarantine will finally come into force. It was announced three weeks earlier. Brits returning from 33 ‘red list’ countries, where travel for non-Brits is already banned, will have to be in guarded hotels for 10 days.
Boris Johnson said the lockdown exit roadmap will be published in the week of February 22. It will go before Parliament for debate.
Reports – downplayed by No10 – have claimed the roadmap will set out three stages of lifting lockdown from March 8.
Mr Johnson and England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty have confirmed lockdown will not be lifted all at once – but will instead involve a number of stages.
However, the Prime Minister has indicated England will not return to the regional ‘tiered’ system and instead ease out of lockdown all at once – contrary to what he said before.
The first actual easing of restrictions isn’t expected until March 8 (below) – despite Scotland potentially opening schools from February 22.
This is the earliest date schools could reopen in England, according to Mr Johnson.
He said the roadmap will give two weeks’ notice to parents, pupils and school staff.
It has been reported some year groups may go back first – most likely primary schools and those in secondaries that have exams this year.
Only after this will non-essential shops, pubs and the like start to reopen, but advisers have said we need a clear two-week break between each new thing opening to check it’s going okay.
The reason for the delay from February 15 is that it takes three weeks for immunity to have some effect.
Schools will be the first to reopen, but quickly other minor aspects of lockdown could be lifted – such as the ban on mixing with others from outside your home.
We might see a reinstatement of the rule of six, allowing you to meet up with five others, for example.
That will set out whether you can meet with people in your garden, in public, in your home or elsewhere and how many people at once.
This is the date the current lockdown legislation for England ends. MPs will have to approve any extension to lockdown rules after this date.
By this point, the process of giving first doses to people aged 50 to 69 and younger ‘at risk’ groups is meant to be well under way.
Officially the target to offer these 17million people their first dose is the end of April, but sources have claimed it could go quicker.
A government source told the Mirror it is possible all 17million will be offered their first dose by the middle or end of March.
There are a couple of things that could scupper the timetable at this point.
Firstly, this is around the time when the NHS has to start giving hundreds of thousands of people per day their second dose.
That could gum up capacity and make it harder to get new people through the door for first doses.
However, ministers believe the vaccine supply is secure to this point. Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on February 4: “Our limitation is the vaccine supply. It remains stable and good. I can see week by week supply all the way through to the end of March, which is good news.”
Easter Sunday – and a time when Boris Johnson claimed restrictions would be substantially lifted.
“I think we can certainly look forward to a very, very different world in this country, from Easter onwards,” the PM said.
This date is gaining traction because ministers and Chris Whitty have suggested that, after over-50s get the jab, it’ll be safe to lift many restrictions. This is around the time many over-50s’ immunity should begin kicking in.
But the PM has repeatedly over-promised on this in the past. If restrictions aren’t lifted in a big way by this point, you could expect a battle between Tory lockdown sceptics and the PM.
UK Hospitality has called for pubs to reopen from this weekend if case rates are falling, but others say it’s far too soon.
According to The Telegraph, the Government’s roadmap will make sure there is not a sudden increase in community transmission, by staggering what opens when.
A Whitehall source told the Telegraph: “If schools do open in March, and the priority is certainly to open schools first, then it will mean other things have to remain closed for some time.
“We have to avoid the situation last time where the return of schools meant far greater household mixing across the board.
“So that means we’d be likely to wait at least another month for non-essential retail, and a month beyond that at least for pubs and restaurants.”
That would mean early April is likely when non-essential retail, such as clothes and electronics shops, could reopen, possibly coinciding with Easter.
The Government could also use this Easter break to kickstart tourism, allowing for the reopening of some tourist attractions and possibly accommodation.
Travel rules could be eased – within the UK – to allow for staycations.
Previously Boris Johnson claimed restrictions would be substantially lifted by Easter
“I think we can certainly look forward to a very, very different world in this country, from Easter onwards,” the PM said.
This is a back-of-a-cigarette-packet figure being touted by some as when lockdown could start properly easing.
It’s come about because experts say lockdown measures can only lift in a big way once first doses are offered to all over-50s.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi refused to say when that would happen – and the official target date is April 30.
But some have calculated that, if the government continues at its current required rate of 5million first doses every 10 days, all over-50s and vulnerable groups would be all offered a first dose by around March 22.
It takes around three weeks for immunity to take effect, which supposedly takes us to April 12.
This is not a reliable figure, though. Firstly it relies on there being no lumps or gaps in supply. Secondly it misses out the rather massive fact that, from March, we’ll be giving millions of people second doses at the same time.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said: “From March, we’ll be starting to re-vaccinate as well as the first vaccines, and that will inevitably slow things down.”
This is the latest date by which all over-50s and at-risk groups are meant to have been offered their first dose, according to the NHS.
17m people should have been offered a first vaccine dose by this date. Millions more will be getting their second dose at the same time.
After that, the NHS will move onto giving first doses to the final, lowest-priority group – all adults under 50 without major health issues.
These 21m people will be sorted into priority groups and it’s thought teachers and other key workers will be put first.
Meanwhile, care home visits may only properly resume around this date. Care home residents were offered a first dose by the end of January – but it takes 12 weeks to get a second dose. And care minister Helen Whately said: “I know relatives are desperate for normal visiting and I am determined that happen as soon as it is safe, but most care home residents must have their second dose.”
Under the Telegraph plan, early April could be the earliest that pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses would be allowed to reopen. The date could coincide with the May Bank Holiday, usually a big money date for pubs and tourism businesses.
SAGE experts have previously said May would be a safer date for reopening the hospitality sector – if infection rates can be brought down.
If all the over 50s and most vulnerable have had their first vaccine dose by April, then May would be seen as substantially safe for easing lockdown further.
May will also see elections across the country, meaning the Government will want to have eased restrictions if possible to allow this to happen.
Second doses should be rounded off for the middle priority group, the over-50s.
It’s also one predicted date for all adults to finish being offered their first dose.
Officially the target is September for this, but government sources told the Sunday Telegraph it could be as soon as July.
If all adults have had a vaccine by this date, then summer travel becomes more of a possibility. There will still be a ‘red list’ of countries requiring quarantine and the Foreign Office will have a list of countries people shouldn’t travel to at all.
Foreign holidays will depend as much on the rules of other countries as of the UK Government – which will be determined by how much of their population has been vaccinated and how safe they view the UK to be.
Spain appeared to say it could be closed to tourists throughout the summer season – although it later rolled back on that.
Rules allowing councils to close pubs, restaurants, shops and parks expire on this date – so it is the current latest date we could see ongoing closures in England.
Tentative reports suggest officials are hopeful that, by the end of August, all adults in the UK will have had both doses of the vaccine. This would allow a major reopening of society.
But officially the target is only to offer all adults a first dose by September.
Chris Whitty said August is “at the very optimistic end”.
Scientists are hopeful though. SAGE member Andrew Hayward said: “I think what we’ll see is a phased opening up as the vaccination levels increase, and then we will be more or less back to normal for the summer, I would imagine.”
The Government aims to have offered a first dose of the vaccine to every adult by September.
Tory ministers have pledged all UK adults will be offered their first dose by this month.
Dominic Raab said the target was “by September”, telling Sky News: “If we can do it faster than that, great, but that’s the roadmap.”
The start of autumn. Professor Chris Whitty said some coronavirus restrictions could be in place until the autumn while the NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said restrictions would be lifted between the spring and summer – with summer ending on this date.
The start of flu season, and mass vaccination against that disease. This may be combined with the re-vaccination of the most vulnerable against coronavirus at the end of 2021.
Scientists are unsure how long immunity will last from having the jab – with estimates of anything from five to nine months.
That means those currently getting the jab will likely need to have another one in October to protect them through next winter.
AstraZeneca and Oxford have said vaccine “booster shots” against new coronavirus variants should be ready by this month. We just have to hope a new variant hasn’t taken hold by that point.
Even once all UK adults are given a first dose, second doses could go on until Christmas due to a 12-week gap.
That would mean maximum protection would only be given to the maximum size of population about a year from now.
Even after this is complete, there are many questions about where the UK’s Covid response goes from here.
The vaccine will not eliminate coronavirus completely, and new variants could emerge that challenge how effective it is.
That suggests travel restrictions could continue to exist into winter 2021, as well as some of the less invasive restrictions we’ve got used to. Scientific advisors have suggested this could include, for example, wearing masks on public transport.
Then there’s the biggest issue of all – revaccination. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam has said it’s likely people will need to get top-up vaccines against Covid like they do against flu – perhaps not every year, but regularly nonetheless.
That suggests you need to get used to Covid being a presence in our lives into 2022 and beyond.
Professor Whitty warned that some rules – such as masks – may be needed next winter.
-- to www.mirror.co.uk