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Watch: Boris Johnson unveils road map for lifting lockdown
Boris Johnson has revealed the government is aiming to remove all of England's restrictions on social contact by 21 June at the earliest.
The prime minister unveiled a "road map" of four stages for easing the coronavirus lockdown, with five weeks in between each one.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Johnson told MPs: "We're setting out what I hope and believe is a one-way road to freedom."
The PM confirmed the first stage of easing restrictions will take place in two weeks' time on 8 March, when all schools return, and socialising with one other person in a park or public space will also be allowed. By 29 March, this will be extended to up to six people, or two households, with gatherings also permitted in private gardens.
In the second stage, on 12 April at the earliest, the government plans to allow shops, hairdressers, nail salons, gyms, outdoor attractions, libraries and community centres to reopen.
Pubs and restaurants would also open outdoors – with no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a "substantial meal", as was the case in the winter.
In the third stage, on 17 May at the earliest, two households or groups of up to six people will be allowed to mix indoors, and limited crowds will be allowed at sporting events.
Pubs and restaurants will open indoors, as well as entertainment venues such as cinemas and theatres. Hotels would also reopen, as well as sports stadiums subject to capacity limits.
Then, in the fourth stage on 21 June, Johnson said the government aims to have "removed all legal limits on social contact": including on weddings and other life events, opening the final closed sectors of the economy such as nightclubs, and lifting restrictions on large events and performances.
Johnson warned that "we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly, more deaths". This is because "there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccine".
The PM added, however: "We cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing, and the life chances of our children."
The staged restrictions will be eased at the same time across the country, which means there will be no return to the localised tier system seen last autumn.
Meanwhile, there was no announcement on how long social distancing measures and face mask use will remain in place, as well as the government's work-from-home guidance. Johnson said reviews assessing this are to be carried out.
Since imposing a third lockdown on England on 4 January, Johnson has repeatedly stressed the need for "caution" when easing restrictions. It comes after a winter crisis that saw record coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths.
Watch: How will easing lockdown affect COVID deaths?
However, Downing Street has been boosted by a successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, with one in three adults in the UK having received a first dose. Johnson said on Monday that the programme has “dramatically changed the odds in our favour”.
Earlier on Monday, there had been more good news from a Scottish study analysing the real-life effectiveness of the vaccines, with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland finding they can been linked to a substantial reduction in hospital admissions.
By the fourth week after receiving the first dose, the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs were shown to reduce the risk of hospital admission by up to 85% and 94% respectively.
Scientists said it is evidence of the vaccines “performing incredibly well”, and that they anticipate seeing similar results around the UK.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, responding to Johnson's announcement, warned the PM to resist pressure to lift the restrictions ahead of the schedule, following past demands from Conservative backbenchers for all measures to be removed by the end of April when the nine priority groups have been vaccinated.
He added: "I’m glad the PM spoke today of caution, of this being irreversible, of assessing the data and following the evidence.
"Those are the right guiding principles and I have to say it’s a welcome change from some of the language the PM has used in the past, and I urge the PM now to stick to that.”
Johnson said he sympathised with those who think lockdown restrictions should be lifted faster.
But he added: "Today 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 incomparably better than the picture we see around us today.”
Watch: What are the four stages of easing coronavirus restrictions?