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Yesterday (22 February 2020), Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the UK Government’s cautious four-step plan to ease lockdown restrictions in England.

The prime minister said that this roadmap applies to England, with similar plans to be put in place in the devolved nations.

Beginning on 8 March, the roadmap details four different stages for the country to ease out of the lockdown restrictions, with a five-week gap as a minimum in between each stage. However, Boris Johnson made it clear that the time between each stage would be delayed if necessary.

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When lockdown restrictions are to be eased, the PM said that people will be given a week’s notice.

Before proceeding to the next step, the government will examine data to assess the impact of previous steps.

This assessment will be based on four tests:

  1. The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
  2. Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
  3. Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
  4. The government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.

The PM said that this cautious easing of restrictions countrywide has been made possible due to people following the UK’s lockdown restrictions and the ambitious vaccination rollout programme, which has seen a large number of people already take up the COVID-19 vaccines. This has helped reduce coronavirus infection rates.

In his speech to parliament, Boris Johnson also set out the latest vaccine efficacy data, with Public Health England (PHE) finding that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces hospitalisations and deaths by at least 75 percent.

Analysis of the AstraZeneca vaccine efficacy continues, with promising early results, he added.

Below, AT Today has summarised key information from England’s four-stage lockdown exit plan:

Step one – 8 March

Beginning on 8 March, step one will see all children and students return to face-to-face education in schools and college.

By this point, the PM says that everyone in the top four vaccine priority cohorts – as determined by the independent JCVI (LINK) – will have received the first dose of their vaccine and developed the necessary protection from it.

In addition, care home residents will be allowed one regular visitor, provided they are tested and wear PPE.

The ‘stay at home’ requirement will remain but people can leave home for recreation outdoors such as a coffee or picnic with their household or support bubble, or with one person outside their household.

As part of step one, there will be further limited changes from 29 March. From this point, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, providing greater flexibility for families to see each other. This includes in private gardens.

From this date, the ‘stay at home’ order will end, although many lockdown restrictions will remain. Although, the government says that people should still continue to work from home where possible.

Step two – no earlier than 12 April

Non-essential retail, personal care premises and public buildings, such as libraries and community centres, will reopen from this point.

Most outdoor attractions and settings will also reopen, although wider social contact rules will apply in these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households, the PM stated.

Indoor leisure facilities will also reopen but only for use by people on their own or with their household.

In step two, hospitality venues can serve people outdoors only and self-contained accommodation where indoor facilities are not shared with other households can also reopen.

Step three – no earlier than 17 May

Outdoors, most social contact rules will be lifted – although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal.

Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply, the roadmap details, but will be kept under review to see whether this number can be safely increased.

Indoor hospitality, entertainment venues, soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes will also reopen.

Some larger indoor and outdoor venues will also reopen, the PM confirmed, as long as they reopen at a half-full capacity.

Step four – no earlier than 21 June

At this point, the government intends to remove all legal limits on social contact. The roadmap also hopes to reopen nightclubs and lift restrictions on large events and performances.

In the meantime, the vaccination programme continues at pace, Boris Johnson outlined, with the announcement of a new target to offer a first dose of the vaccine to every adult by the end of July.

The government hopes that the increased protection offered by vaccines will gradually replace the restrictions, with the roadmap providing the principles of the transition.

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