England is taking its first tentative step out of the pandemic-induced lockdown this Monday, as the “stay at home” order is lifted to allow groups of six people or as two households to meet outdoors, and amateur outdoor sports to resume.
Starting today, football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs are allowed to reopen, with organised team sports resuming outdoors.
The previous 'stay at home' order is being scrapped in favour of 'stay local' guidelines, with people still urged to work from home if possible and minimise their journeys.
However, the easing of restrictions, in line with the roadmap to take the country out of lockdown unveiled by the government on 22 February, comes with a warning to tread with caution.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed an upcoming “Great British summer of sport”, applauding the fact that people would be able to “resume the activities they love”.
“I know how much people have missed the camaraderie and competition of organised sport, and how difficult it has been to restrict physical activities – especially for children,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by Sky News.
Johnson urged caution, however:
“We must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout. Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules, remember hands, face, space, and come forward for a vaccine when called.”
Boris Johnson also encouraged the public to take part in a fitness drive, with an hour of physical activity a day advised for children, and at least 150 minutes for adults.
The easing of restrictions has brought with it a new slogan - Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air - to emphasise the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus.
Prof Chris Whitty, the UK's chief medical officer, was quoted as saying:
"The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase."
"Previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I'm afraid it washes up on our shores as well," the Prime Minister told reporters on Monday, as he sought to reassure that Britain would be continuing with its vaccination programme, and there was "nothing in the data to dissuade [him] from continuing on the roadmap to freedom".
Britons have also been reminded by the Metropolitan Police that large gatherings remain unlawful and officers would "continue to respond quickly to house parties or dangerous raves, taking enforcement action by handing out fines".
United Kingdom Daily Coronavirus (COVID-19) Report · Sunday 28th March.— UK COVID-19 (@UKCovid19Stats) March 28, 2021
3,862 new cases (people positive) reported, giving a total of 4,333,042.
19 new deaths reported, giving a total of 126,592. pic.twitter.com/e98yALYncZ
This comes as the latest government figures show 3,862 new coronavirus cases and 19 deaths were reported on Sunday - down from 5,312 and 33 a week ago.
In line with the government’s vaccination drive, 423,852 UK adults received a first dose of the jab on 27 March, taking the overall number to 30,151,287 - with 233,964 having their second dose, bringing that total to 3,527,481.
‘Roadmap’ on Course
The current changes are the first major milestone laid out in a ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ that was announced by Downing Street in late February.
Easing of restrictions in fact began on 8 March, when schools reopened and people were allowed to meet one friend or relative outdoors.
The next step in the roadmap is 12 April, which will see non-essential shops and outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants, reopen. This will also apply to hairdressers and some public buildings, like libraries.
Also allowed to resume activities will be indoor leisure, like swimming pools and gyms. Self-catering lets and camp sites will be allowed to provide self-contained holiday accommodation. However, no indoor mixing between different households will be allowed.
If coronavirus data allows it, the third step might come on 17 May, which will see the "rule of six" abolished for outdoor gatherings, to be replaced with a limit of 30 people.
This stage will also see cinemas, museums, hotels, performances and sporting events reopen, albeit with social distancing still in place.
Finally, the fourth step from 21 June will potentially see all legal limits on social contact removed.
The UK has smartly decided to rely on the free market to regulate COVID vaccine distribution. Meanwhile, the EU has opted for government-directed central planning. As a result, the UK sits far ahead of its EU counterparts, with a 47% vaccination rate. pic.twitter.com/tyOCZ0pAGe— Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) March 28, 2021
As the UK eases it restrictions, many countries in Europe are implementing tougher measures to contain a surge in new infections as they struggle with sluggish COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.
Some European countries have re-introduced or extended lockdown measures. Germany extended its current restrictions until 18 April, Paris is entering a new month-long lockdown, together with several other regions in the north and the south of France.
Shops, schools and restaurants are closed in many major Italian cities, with Italy planning a nationwide shutdown over the three-day Easter weekend, starting on 2 April.