Prime Minister Boris Johnson has laid out a cautious timetable for easing coronavirus restrictions in the UK over the coming months, pledging to try and avoid the U-turns that have plagued the country’s strategy so far.
The planned exit from lockdown should be “cautious but irreversible,” Johnson told reporters in London.
The UK government is hoping the current lockdown will be the country’s last, though Johnson said he could not offer a “cast iron guarantee” that would be the case.
Fearing the rapid spread of dangerous coronavirus variants, however, the plan foresees gradual relaxations of rules at greater intervals.
Johnson only sets the rules for England – in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the regional governments are responsible for regulating restrictions.
According to media reports, the first pupils in England are to be allowed to return to in-person schooling on March 8.
The relaxations are expected to affect outdoor activities first, then retail, followed by restaurants and bars.
However, this also depends on scientific evaluations of the extent to which the vaccination progress is already having an impact on the infection situation.
More than 15 million residents of the UK have already received a first vaccine dose, including more than 90 per cent of people older than 70.
By the end of April, the aim is to give all people over 50 a first dose of the vaccine.
“This is an unprecedented national achievement,” Johnson told a press conference on Monday.
And yet this is “no moment to relax,” he added.
Ministers reviewing coronavirus restrictions in England are under pressure from MPs to commit to a swift reopening.
More people with COVID-19 are currently being treated in UK hospitals than during the first wave of infections last year, he said.
The number of new coronavirus cases has been falling dramatically for several weeks but remains at a high level.
In the past seven days, the country counted just under 150 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants.
Johnson made his comments as rules came into force requiring travellers entering from 33 high-risk countries with coronavirus variants to undergo a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.