Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out his ‘road map’ out of lockdown later this month.
As cases continue to fall and the vaccine programme expands further, there are calls for the Government to outline what the next stages are for leaving the strictest restrictions.
The Prime Minister has said he will announce a timetable of the earliest dates that restrictions could ease.
While very few details have been confirmed, there are plenty of reports about what to expect and ministers have offered some clues about what the first steps will be.
The road map will be similar to what was announced last May which gave dates for non-essential retail and hospitality businesses to reopen as well as the return of sports and easing of restrictions on mixing.
These are what is most likely to be discussed over the next week ahead of the announcement, although they could be subject to change depending on the latest data.
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Schools will reopen
It’s almost guaranteed that schools will be the first part of life to resume as the lockdown lift.
The closures were last step before the country entered the national lockdown, and Boris Johnson said reopening schools was the government’s “single biggest priority”.
The Prime Minister promised schools, parents and local authorities two weeks’ notice before re-opening, which would mean a February 22 announcement could line up with the touted March 8 return.
It is unclear whether this would be a staggered approach, as attempted in January or a full return as in September, but testing will likely take place on a more regular basis.
On Monday (February 8) Johnson said that the new roadmap will explain what will be done to help children catch-up with the loss of classroom time – and refused to rule out a shortened summer holiday to allow for more teaching in summer, when doors and windows can be kept open.
According to the Sunday Times, this would lead to a longer October and Christmas break so children are in school for the same amount of time in total.
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When non-essential retail will be allowed to open
After the first lockdown in Spring 2020, the Prime Minister gave an outline of planned re-opening dates a few weeks’ ahead of time.
It would be likely the same will happen again and, as with last May, these could change if data also changes – the first date for non-essential retail opening was pushed back from June 1 to June 15.
Last year there was a staggered return, with non-essential retailers returning two weeks before restaurants, and three weeks later gyms could reopen.
It is likely similar steps will be taken this time around, as experts can then analyse where infections are rising and whether it is safe to continue easing restrictions.
That means, while some restrictions could lift on March 8, it seems likely that shoppers will have to wait a little longer than that date.
When pubs and restaurants could reopen, and what rules they will have to follow
The hospitality industry has had to deal with a barrage of new rules and regulations during the pandemic.
From a substantial meal, to rules on household mixing and curfews, getting a drink on the weekend has become much more complicated.
While a date could be given, there is not yet much indication when that could be – some reports have suggested as soon as Easter, while others have said it’s likely to be closer to the May bank holiday.
There should be clarity on what the hospitality industry can do, and whether the rumoured alcohol ban will be in place during the first stages of re-openings.
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When households will be allowed to mix
Reports earlier this month said that the Prime Minister was aiming for Easter weekend (April 2-4) as a target for households to mix again.
There has been no further detail on whether this seems achievable, or whether restrictions could be eased for those meeting outdoors first (as was the case last year).
It is hoped that 15 million people will have been offered the vaccine before the road map is announced, including most over 70s and extremely clinically vulnerable people.
That will mean many families are hoping to reunite with grandparents and relatives after a year apart, but those with the vaccine can still transmit the virus despite being protected from the most serious illness.
It could mean a slower easing process than many will hope for, with normality not returning until a much higher number of people are vaccinated.
Whether furlough will be extended
While details on the financial recovery will be detailed further by Chancellor Rishi Sunak during the budget on March 3, if the Prime Minister signals closures will continue he may confirm what will happen to the furlough scheme.
It is currently due to end in April 2021, meaning that businesses could be given a narrow window to open if the first restrictions aren’t to be lifted until March 8.
When sport and outdoor exercise can resume
On the timetable given last year the return of sport was one of the key dates to allow people to return to more frequent exercise, or team sports.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said that he wants children’s sport to be prioritised, so this may get a return ahead of adults being allowed to return to team sports but we should have an idea when things will return.
This could also allow sports like tennis and golf to return earlier.
Gyms, however, could be later than exercising outdoors – although they were exempt from Tier 3 closures so this is likely to be a contentious decision.