Easter getaways and al fresco dining? 7 key COVID updates and reports from the weekend

A woman walks past the 'Act Like You've Got It' coronavirus campaign advert in London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The government is under pressure to set out its timetable for exiting the lockdown. (PA)

There has been another weekend of key developments in the UK’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Much of the debate has focused on when England could start coming out of its third national lockdown and which restrictions could be eased.

As the government reached its target of vaccinating 15 million people in priority groups, there have been reports that al fresco dining and even Easter getaways could be possible.

Some of Boris Johnson’s MPs have urged him to lift all lockdown restrictions by the end of April, but the government has insisted it will take a “cautious and careful” approach.

Here are the key developments from the past 48 hours:

1. Easter getaways?

According to a report in The Times on Monday, ministers are considering plans to permit trips at Easter, which falls at the beginning of April.

It said one option being discussed is a plan to allow people in the same household to be allowed to go on self-catering breaks in England.

Meanwhile, The i newspaper reported that Johnson has a three-stage plan for exiting lockdown, which it said included reopening hotels, pubs and restaurants in England from Easter weekend.

On Saturday, The Daily Telegraph reported that outdoor picnics and meeting a friend for a coffee on a park bench will be the first activities to be permitted if the lockdown eases on 8 March.

2. 15 million vaccine target

The government announced at the weekend that it had reached its target of vaccinating more than 15 million people from the top four priority groups by 15 February.

Johnson hailed the achievement – just over two months after the vaccination programme delivered its first jab – as a “significant milestone” in the fight against COVID-19.

Chief Pharmacist Richard Harrison with the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Askham Bar park-and-ride in York, as ten further mass vaccination centres opened in England with more than a million over-80s invited to receive their coronavirus jab. Picture date: Monday January 18, 2021.
The government has reached its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the middle of February. (PA)

The passing of the 15 million vaccinations mark paves the way for the next phase of the rollout – covering the next five priority groups, including the over 50s – to begin.

NHS England has already sent out 1.2 million invitations to the over-65s to book an appointment, with a similar number expected to go out this week.

The government is aiming to get an offer of a vaccine to the estimated 17 million people in the next five groups by the end of April.

3. Hotel quarantine

On Monday, the first guests will check into government-designated accommodation as the hotel quarantine system begins.

UK nationals or residents returning to England from 33 “red list” countries – hotspots with coronavirus variants in circulation – will be required to quarantine in hotels for 10 days.

Watch: First guests to check in to quarantine hotels

Anyone who has been in a high-risk destination will have to enter England through a designated port and have pre-booked a quarantine package to stay at one of the government’s managed quarantine facilities.

The government has struck deals with 16 hotels so far, providing 4,963 rooms, with a further 58,000 rooms currently on standby.

The cost for a quarantine hotel stay is £1,750 for a single adult.

Travellers arriving from Monday onwards that have not visited a red-list country must still quarantine for 10 days at home and complete mandatory COVID-19 tests on the second and eighth day after arriving.

4. Lowest daily COVID death toll for seven weeks

According to the latest government figures published on Sunday, the UK recorded its lowest daily death toll for seven weeks.

The government said on Sunday that 258 people had died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.

The government also said that, as of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 10,972 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 4,038,078.

5. First vaccine shots ‘provide 67% protection after three weeks’

According to data from the Zoe COVID Symptom Study App, single jabs of COVID vaccinations are providing 67% protection against infection.

Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the government’s policy of delaying second jabs appeared to be working.

He said a single vaccine was providing 46% protection after two weeks and 67% after three weeks.

People queue to receive their Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre inside the Brighton Centre, Sussex, as the UK continues in a third lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture date: Tuesday February 9, 2021.
The head of a COVID study says a single vaccine dose offers 67% protection after three weeks. (PA)

He said: “It’s still preliminary, we are still analysing the results. It’s looking very promising and the government’s approach of delaying the second shot in order to get more people vaccinated looks like it’s paying off.”

Prof Spector said he would be happy for schools in some regions, particularly rural areas, to return earlier than the proposed 8 March date and especially for younger children, who pose “very little risk to themselves or others”.

He said he could see face masks and other social distancing restrictions being required in some situations for the longer term.

6. Tories urge Johnson to lift lockdown

On Sunday, Tory MPs from the COVID Recovery Group (CRG) called on Johnson to lift the lockdown completely by the end of April.

In a letter to the prime minister on Saturday, the group’s leaders called on him to commit to a timetable for lifting coronavirus restrictions.

Watch: Raab rejects calls to commit to lifting lockdown by April

The letter was organised by the group’s leaders, Mark Harper and Steve Baker, and was said to have the backing of 63 Conservative MPs.

The letter said the “tremendous pace” of the vaccination rollout meant restrictions in England should begin easing from early March.

It said ministers must produce a cost-benefit analysis to justify any controls that remain in place after that date, with a “road-map” stating when they would be removed.

7. Government taking ‘cautious and careful’ approach

However, foreign secretary Dominic Raab rejected calls from lockdown sceptics to lift all restrictions by the end of April.

On Sunday, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the government is taking a “cautious and careful” approach to lifting lockdown measures.

Raab said: "I think we are also cautious and careful because you can't get ahead of the evidence of the impact of the vaccine on the transmission.

"We have made good progress. We don't want to see that unravel because we go too far too quick.

"We are not making what feels to me like a slightly arbitrary commitment without reviewing the impact that measures have had on the transmission and the hospital admissions of the virus.”

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's lockdown