20:36 GMT05 March 2021
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    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled his long-awaited "roadmap" to permanently free England from the coronavirus lockdown after almost a year of up-and-down restriction levels. But when will life really return to normal?

    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.

    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.

    An empty classroom is seen at Westlands Primary School, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, Britain, January 4, 2021.
    © REUTERS / CARL RECINE
    An empty classroom is seen at Westlands Primary School, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, Britain, January 4, 2021.

    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.

    Indoor munching and boozing is set to be allowed again from May 17, while cinemas, theatres, sport stadia and certain other venues will also be permitted to reopen.

    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.”  

    A man wearing a British union flag face mask walks past a coronavirus advice sign outside a bank in Glasgow the morning after stricter lockdown measures came into force for Scotland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021.  Further measures were put in place Tuesday as part of lockdown restrictions in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
    © AP Photo / Andrew Milligan
    A man wearing a British union flag face mask walks past a coronavirus advice sign outside a bank in Glasgow the morning after stricter lockdown measures came into force for Scotland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021. Further measures were put in place Tuesday as part of lockdown restrictions in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

    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.

    Uncertainty about the outcome of those rolling reviews — which could push the start of each new phase back by weeks — is likely to discourage people from booking holidays and vex the travel industry which has suffered greatly during the pandemic.

    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.

    Related:

    Ghost Town: How London Public Transport Plans to Move on After Covid-19 Lockdown
    Most People in UK Do Not Trust Johnson Can Take England Out of COVID-19 Lockdown, Poll Shows
    Boris Johnson Unveils 'Roadmap' to Get England Out of Lockdown
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    Boris Johnson, lockdown, coronavirus, COVID-19
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