Grandparents able to reunite with grandchildren in March under lighter lockdown proposal

Charles Hymas
·6-min read
Grandmother with grandchild - Bloom Productions 
Grandmother with grandchild - Bloom Productions

Grandparents could be able to see their grandchildren again from as early as March under plans to ease lockdown being considered by the Government.

In the wake of the vaccine rollout success – which saw the Government announce on Sunday that everyone in the four most vulnerable categories in England has now been offered a jab – ministers are looking to begin lifting restrictions from March 8.

Schools will be the first to return, with people also allowed to meet friends and family outdoors on a one-to-one basis.

The Telegraph understands that the Government is also looking at making an exemption to the one-to-one outdoor meeting rule for children, which could allow grandparents to see their grandchildren again with a parent.

Young children were exempted from the same rule in the November lockdown, and the move could be repeated or extended to older children. "If grandparents had had the vaccine, that would be likely to be ok. Given that people will have immunity, that would be a fair assumption, but nothing has been decided," said a Government source.

The moves are part of a staged easing of lockdown and are likely to be followed by the return of one-to-one outdoor sports such as tennis and golf. The opening of non-essential shops is then expected to be followed by the easing of the curbs on hospitality, starting with drinking and eating alfresco in pubs and restaurants.

The pace of lifting restrictions will depend on scientific advice, which in the most optimistic scenario could see shops and pubs allowed to open for drinks outside in April – but that would be delayed if infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths fall more slowly.

On Sunday, Boris Johnson signalled that he expected Covid case rates to drop "sharply" in face of the vaccine rollout.

"What you're now seeing is, thanks to the efforts of the British people, the lockdown, plus possibly the effects of the vaccine, we're going to start seeing the rates coming down more sharply," he told the US TV station CBS. "They're falling at the moment. We want to be in a position where we can begin to open up."

In a video posted on Twitter, the Prime Minister hailed the first dose vaccination of more than 15 million people as an "extraordinary feat".

He said jabs have been offered to everyone in the Government's top four priority groups in England – the over-70s, care home residents and staff, healthcare workers and those who have been shielding – "hitting the first target that we set ourselves".

Of the 15,599,904 jabs given in the UK so far, 15,062,189 were first doses, while some 537,715 were second doses, according to NHS data up to Feb 13.

Mr Johnson said: "We have reached a significant milestone in the United Kingdom's national vaccination programme. On December 8, just after 6.30am in the morning, this country's first coronavirus jab was delivered safely into the arm of Margaret Keenan at University Hospital in Coventry.

"In the following two months, this country has achieved an extraordinary feat, administering a total of 15 million jabs into the arms of some of the most vulnerable people in the country."

Mr Johnson added that the vaccine distribution has been a "truly national UK-wide effort," but stressed that "no one is resting on their laurels".

"In fact, the first million or so letters offering appointments to the over-65s are already landing on doorsteps," he said, adding that while there will "undoubtedly be bumps in the road", he was sure "we can go forward with great confidence".

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, suggested that the UK was on course to vaccinate all over-50s by the end of April, with supplies of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs expected to increase and stabilise at a higher level in March.

"We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the one to nine categories of the most vulnerable and all over-50s by the end of April and then all adults," Mr Zahawi said.

However, ministers on Sunday made clear they will tread cautiously rather than risk a resurgence of the virus as happened with the lifting of lockdowns last year.

"We have made good progress but we don't want to see that unravel because we go too far too quick," said Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, as he rejected an "arbitrary" demand by lockdown-sceptic Tories for a lifting of all legal restrictions in England by the end of April.

More than 60 MPs in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) have sought to pile the pressure on Mr Johnson, insisting he commit to a firm timetable for ending controls.

In a letter to the Prime Minister they said schools "must" return on March 8 as planned, with pubs and restaurants opening in a "commercially viable manner" from Easter.

With the top nine of the Government's priority groups due to have received the vaccine by the end of April, they said that should mark the final end of lockdown.

A dozen Tory MPs also launched a campaign for restricted weddings to return from March 8 and normal ones – with no restrictions – to be allowed from May.

Former cabinet minister Esther McVey said: "Once the NHS has vaccinated the top nine groups by the end of April, [the] Government should bring back normal weddings, celebrating with family and friends and treasuring the institution of marriage."

Writing in The Telegraph, Steve Baker, the vice-chairman of the CRG, also called for a new Public Health Act that would prevent the Government from imposing the same restrictions on people's personal liberties as they had faced over Covid without Parliamentary approval.

He said the new Act was needed to "prevent executive overreach" and lead to "better handling of any future pandemic”. It is understood that Mr Baker has been working alongside the former Supreme Court judge Lord Jonathan Sumption in developing the plan.

Mr Baker said: "This has been a devastating chapter in our history. A government must never again be able to impose restrictions like these without us being sure they do more good than harm, and without Parliament playing a full and regular role in shaping such important laws."

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales expressed concern about the "variable uptake" of the Covid-19 vaccine in some ethnic minority communities.

"It is clear that there are particular challenges faced in particular sections of our society, especially in some ethnic minority communities," he told a British Asian Trust webinar. "What saddens me even further is to hear that those challenges are being made even worse by the variable uptake of the vaccines which finally offer us a way out of the suffering of the past year."