Boris Jonson sounded an optimistic but cautious tone in his speech to Parliament on Monday announcing the "irreversible" lifting of the lockdown by stages.
Each phase of the plan will be separated by a gap of five weeks, with reviews of the pandemic situation to determine if the next step can be taken. But with almost 18 million of the most vulnerable people immunised with at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine as of Sunday, the number of new infections and deaths are falling sharply from their mid-January peak.
Downing Street tweeted a series of graphics to explain the complex timetable of opening up the economy.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) February 22, 2021
School's in Forever
Not only will all pupils go back to school and students to their colleges and universities on March 8 as promised, breakfast and after-school clubs will also re-open to help parents get back to work.
Currently the children of essential workers, along with those with special educational needs or considered vulnerable, are having face-to-face classes, while all others are learning remotely from home. University students have been attending virtual lectures online.
Teaching unions and some opposition Labour Party MPs have called the plan "reckless" and urged a phased re-opening. But parents have been anxious to get their children back to face-to-face classes — or at least out of the house for six hours of the day.
No More 'Scotch Egg Rule'
Drinkers and diners will have been cheered by Johnson's announcement that not only will pub beer gardens and restaurants be able to offer outdoor "al-fresco" table service again from April 12 — if all goes well.
Their joy was doubtless redoubled by his confirmation that the much-maligned 10pm curfew and "Scotch Egg Rule" — that an alcoholic drink must be accompanied by a "substantial meal" — will be abolished.
The esoteric-sounding "Rule of Six" will return on March 29, meaning up to six people from six different households will be able to meet in a public place — including pubs.
The crucial June 21 date for the end of all lockdown rules will see nightclubs reopen and all restrictions on numbers at weddings, funerals and wakes lifted entirely. From March 8 only 30 people will be allowed at open-air funerals and six at receptions, but the latter is set to rise to 15 on April 12 and 30 on May 17.
Time for a Haircut and a Workout
April 12 is a key date as shops should be allowed to re-open, including "personal care" providers like hairdressers.
By that time an increasingly hairy nation will have been unable to get a professional haircut for almost five months. Kids dreading a pudding-bowl trim and adults forced to cut their own hair with clippers — or just shave it all off — will breathe a sigh of relief.
Gyms will also reopen, along with libraries and most outdoor attractions like theme parks and funfairs. The streets and parks of England may finally be cleared of the hordes of joggers who first appeared last spring.
Regional Restriction Rows Resolved
Johnson pledged that the lockdown restrictions will be lifted across the England, with no return to the tiered "alert level" system put in place late last year.
The tiered scheme sparked acrimonious anger among mayors of several northern cities and towns, who accused the government of unfairly stifling local businesses with what they saw as arbitrary designations.
But Johnson warned that if new, vaccine-resistant coronavirus strains emerged, he would not rule out "re-imposing restrictions at a local or regional level if evidence suggests this is necessary.”
The same can't be said for the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and and Northern Ireland, which have set their own lockdown restrictions and will lift them under their own schedules. That could see a return to attempts by the Scottish and Welsh governments to prevent travel across the purely-figurative borders with England, especially if one side offers more freedom for leisure and shopping.
Local elections will go ahead on May 6, with many of those local and regional leaders seeking a new term of office.
But Can I Book a Holiday
The roadmap explicitly rules out international holidays before May 17 — "subject to review" — and 'staycations' inside the country until April 12 at the earliest.
Added to that the ongoing bans on travel from the UK imposed by some other countries, the still sketchy timetable may put would-be travellers off booking in advance for the next few months.
Outdoor entertainment like music festivals won't return until at least May 17 — but the ongoing uncertainty might see some of the big names hold off booking acts and selling tickets until the 2022 season.