The Guardian

PM re­veals roadmap to ‘bet­ter’ days with warn­ing on deaths

• Schools to open first in four-step process to end all curbs by 21 June • Vac­cines, mass rapid test­ing and ‘Covid sta­tus cer­tifi­cates’ part of plans

- Heather Ste­wart Aubrey Al­le­gretti Jes­sica El­got UK News · Boris Johnson · England · United Kingdom · Scotland · Arbeidersparty · Theresa May · Steve Baker · Keir Starmer · United Kingdom Department for Transport · Department for Transport

Boris John­son promised spring and sum­mer would be “incomparab­ly bet­ter” than life in lock­down yes­ter­day as he set out a four-stage plan for Eng­land that could pave the way for night­clubs to re­open, sports fans to fill sta­di­ums and stay­ca­tions to re­turn.

But un­veil­ing a cau­tious phased eas­ing of curbs, the prime min­is­ter ruled out re­open­ing shops, pubs, gyms and hol­i­day lets un­til at least 12 April, af­ter Easter. By 21 June, the gov­ern­ment hopes to be able to lift re­stric­tions on so­cial­is­ing that have been in place for much of the past year, and re­open venues that have re­mained closed since last March.

He also warned that lift­ing lock­down would in­evitably re­sult in more cases, hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions and deaths.

In a sig­nal of how dif­fer­ent the new nor­mal will be from pre-pan­demic life, “Covid sta­tus cer­tifi­cates” are be­ing con­sid­ered to help busi­nesses re­open. Fam­i­lies and work­ers will also be en­cour­aged to take rapid Covid tests reg­u­larly. Prof Chris Whitty, Eng­land’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, warned the coun­try to ex­pect that coron­avirus “will be a prob­lem for the next few win­ters”.

With more than a third of UK adults hav­ing had a first vac­cine dose, John­son told MPs yes­ter­day that “we’re set­ting out on what I hope and be­lieve is a one-way jour­ney to free­dom”. New data from Eng­land and Scot­land showed that a sin­gle jab gave high pro­tec­tion against se­vere Covid-19 and pro­tected against even mild dis­ease with no symp­toms in younger peo­ple.

The prime min­is­ter added: “The end re­ally is in sight, and a wretched year will give way to a spring and a sum­mer that will be very dif­fer­ent and in­com- para­bly bet­ter than the pic­ture we see around us to­day.” His keenly awaited roadmap, which be­gins with all pupils re­turn­ing to schools in Eng­land on 8 March, is slower than many Tory col­leagues had hoped, with the “stay at home” or­der re­main­ing in place un­til 29 March at the ear­li­est – and Easter breaks banned.

All changes are con­tin­gent on four tests be­ing met, John­son said.

• Aside from schools re­open­ing – with masks for se­condary school pupils - the only change on 8 March will be that two peo­ple from dif­fer­ent house­holds will al­lowed to meet out­side so­cially. From 29 March, the “stay at home” or­der will lift so peo­ple can meet fam­ily mem­bers in a park or gar­den, and out­door sports fa­cil­i­ties can re­open.

• In step two, from 12 April, hair­dressers and non-es­sen­tial shops can re­open, as well as self-ca­ter­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, li­braries, mu­se­ums and out­door venues such as pub gar­dens.

• From 17 May, in step three, most rules on out­door so­cial con­tact will be lifted, with gath­er­ings lim­ited to 30 peo­ple. Pubs and restau­rants will be able to serve cus­tomers in­doors. Sports venues can ad­mit up to 10,000 fans or a quar­ter of ca­pac­ity, which­ever is lower, and mu­sic acts can per­form to an au­di­ence of up to 1,000 peo­ple, or half a venue’s ca­pac­ity.

• In step four, from 21 June, all lim­its on so­cial­is­ing should be lifted and the fi­nal en­ter­tain­ment sec­tors re­opened.

John­son stressed that the dates in his 60-page roadmap were the ear­li­est at which curbs could be lifted.

Ex­perts on the Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Group for Emer­gen­cies (Sage), whose anal­y­sis was pub­lished with the plan, stressed the need for cau­tion. “All sce­nar­ios show an epi­demic resur­gence which re­sults in a sub­stan­tial num­ber of hos­pi­tal

‘Once again it seems to be mod­el­ling, not data, that is driv­ing de­ci­sions’

Steve Baker Con­ser­va­tive MP

ad­mis­sions and deaths, though there are dif­fer­ences in the scale and tim­ing,” they said. “De­ci­sions about changes to re­stric­tions are best made based on epi­demi­o­log­i­cal data rather than based on pre­de­ter­mined dates.”

John­son bluntly told MPs: “We can­not es­cape the fact that lift­ing lock­down will re­sult in more cases, more hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions and sadly more deaths. And this will hap­pen when­ever lock­down is lifted, whether that is now or in six or nine months.”

But he in­sisted: “We can­not per­sist in­def­i­nitely with re­stric­tions that de­bil­i­tate our econ­omy, our phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing, and the life chances of our chil­dren.”

The five-week gap be­tween the phases is in­tended to al­low four weeks for data to emerge about the im­pact of changes and a week’s no­tice for the next stage to be in­tro­duced. Speak­ing at a No 10 press con­fer­ence, Whitty said there were still “very sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of peo­ple with in­fec­tions ev­ery day”. He said the roadmap was “not the end” but a point where riskbased open­ing up could be­gin.

Covid-19 could be­come sim­i­lar to sea­sonal flu, he said, which causes an av­er­age of 9,000 deaths a year. “There are a lot of other res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions and I’m afraid for the fore­see­able fu­ture coron­avirus is go­ing to be added to that list of things that those who are vul­ner­a­ble, even de­spite vac­ci­na­tion, can be at risk.”

There was no firm news in the roadmap for fam­i­lies hop­ing for a sum­mer break abroad. The gov­ern­ment said the ban on for­eign travel would con­tinue un­til at least 17 May. Mean­while, min­is­ters will carry out a re­view into how travel could safely re­sume.

The Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, wel­comed the prime min­is­ter’s plan but called for more fi­nan­cial help for peo­ple self-iso­lat­ing. “As the chair of test and trace said, peo­ple are ‘scared’ to take a test be­cause they can’t af­ford to iso­late. This not only harms our health re­sponse, it costs the econ­omy too. It sim­ply has to be fixed.”

John­son promised not to “pull the rug” from un­der busi­nesses and house­holds strug­gling with the costs of the pan­demic – but left the de­tails to be an­nounced by the chan­cel­lor, Rishi Su­nak, in the bud­get next week.

The prime min­is­ter faced more muted crit­i­cism from his back­benchers, pub­licly and pri­vately, than at times ear­lier in the crises. Many wel­comed the roadmap and the em­pha­sis on vac­cines as a tool for un­lock­ing the econ­omy but ap­peared re­signed to a long route out of lock­down.

“I want every­thing open as soon as pos­si­ble but I know it won’t be for a while,” one se­nior Tory said. An­other ad­mit­ted col­leagues were “ex­pect­ing more” while a third shrugged “there are some things I’d have done quicker” – but John­son es­caped an­gry con­fronta­tions from Com­mons col­leagues.

How­ever, Steve Baker of the Covid re­cov­ery group of back­benchers ques­tioned the mod­el­ling on which the plan was based. “To­day’s pace of change will be a ham­mer blow to avi­a­tion, pubs, restau­rants, ho­tels, gyms and pools, the arts and en­ter­tain­ment. Once again, it seems to be mod­el­ling not data driv­ing de­ci­sions,” he said.

John­son’s pre­de­ces­sor, Theresa May, chal­lenged him on avi­a­tion, say­ing a re­view on restart­ing for­eign travel due to re­port on 12 April won’t give trav­ellers enough time to plan or the in­dus­try to pre­pare for bookings.

An­other re­view will be car­ried out into mask-wear­ing, so­cial dis­tanc­ing and work­ing from home, all of which are ex­pected to con­tinue for the time be­ing. That re­view is ex­pected be­fore step four is im­ple­mented in June.

Un­like au­tumn, when tiered re­stric­tions were im­posed re­gion­ally, the changes will be Eng­land-wide – though small-scale lo­cal lock­downs could be im­posed if new vari­ants emerges.

Four re­views tak­ing place within the un­lock­ing process

• On whether “Covid sta­tus cer­tifi­cates” – ie vac­cine or test pass­ports – could be used to help re­open the econ­omy and/or re­duce re­stric­tions. This will be set out ahead of step 4.

• An “events re­search pro­gramme” with pilots to test the ef­fects of larger crowds and/ or re­duced so­cial dis­tanc­ing to start in April.

• A Depart­ment for Trans­port re­view into how to al­low more travel as soon as pos­si­ble, given wor­ries over new vari­ants of Covid. It will re­port on 12 April, but in­ter­na­tional travel will not re­sume be­fore 17 May.

• A re­view of so­cial dis­tanc­ing, for ex­am­ple the 1 me­tre-plus rule, and on masks and work­ing from home. This will con­clude be­fore step 4.

Com­mons scru­tiny and votes

For most of the rules the gov­ern­ment will lay a statu­tory in­stru­ment, a form of leg­is­la­tion, be­fore 8 March and it will be de­bated and voted on be­fore the Easter re­cess.

 ?? PHO­TO­GRAPH: LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES ?? ▲ Boris John­son out­lin­ing his plans to ease Eng­land’s Covid re­stric­tions
PHO­TO­GRAPH: LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES ▲ Boris John­son out­lin­ing his plans to ease Eng­land’s Covid re­stric­tions
 ?? Source: Data.gov.uk, up­dated 21 Fe­bru­ary, 2021. Note: line chart based on the av­er­age num­ber of new cases a day in a given week. Cases are as­signed to the date of pub­li­ca­tion ??
Source: Data.gov.uk, up­dated 21 Fe­bru­ary, 2021. Note: line chart based on the av­er­age num­ber of new cases a day in a given week. Cases are as­signed to the date of pub­li­ca­tion

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