Schools in England will reopen on 8 March, while two households or six people will be allowed to meet outside starting from 29 March, said UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi as part of a government plan to ease coronavirus restrictions. "The view is very much that this is about a gradual reopening of the whole of England, not regional", the official told LBC Radio.
The minister said two people will be able to meet outdoors and "maybe have coffee together" from 8 March, while family gatherings and outdoor sports will be allowed starting from 29 March.
British media outlets reported that although schools will reopen to all pupils on 8 March, there will be several free days so that testing and other safety measures can be put into place.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address MPs in the House of Commons this afternoon and unveil his roadmap on easing the lockdown. The PM emphasised that the government would focus on data rather than dates when lifting coronavirus restrictions.
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.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 22, 2021
UK media outlets reported that all restrictions will be lifted in stages and four conditions must be met in order to proceed to the next stage. They include:
- the vaccination programme goes as planned;
- evidence shows vaccines are significantly reducing coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalisations;
- infection rate will not cause hospital admissions;
- no new dangerous strains of the virus emerge.
Sky News reported that England will ease restrictions in five week intervals – four weeks to analyse data and a week's notice that restrictions will be lifted.
New Plan, New Wave of Criticism
Although the roadmap on easing the lockdown has not been unveiled yet, the prime minister's plan has already caused a backlash among Tory MPs.
Former chief whip Mark Harper, chair of the 70-strong Tory Covid Recovery Group, has berated one of the four conditions outlined in the plan.
"Keeping restrictions in place 'because a new variant may come along in the future' is a recipe for never unlocking. Ever", said Harper.
Other MPs are dissatisfied that it will take months before shops and pubs will be allowed to reopen completely. Business leaders have already called on the PM to "be bold" to save the country’s economy.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association said it is high time that authorities allowed the reopening of pubs so that thousands in the business community can start emerging from the crisis.
However, Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth sided with Downing Street and said the government was right "to be cautious" coming out of the lockdown.
The PM will brief MPs on the efficacy of the vaccination programme and impact of inoculations on hospitalisations and deaths.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the transmission of the virus was down by two-thirds due to the vaccines, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said hospital admissions were falling "much more sharply" than they were during the first wave.
According to the government's website, 17.5 million people have received first dose, while 615,148 have received two doses. The total number of coronavirus infections in the United Kingdom stands at 4.1 million. More than 120,000 have died from the disease since the outbreak began.