Mapping the route out of the Coronavirus lockdown

·6-min read
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When Boris Johnson sets out the country’s “road to recovery” on Monday afternoon, his mantra will be one of “caution” rather than a “big bang” return to freedom.

After thrashing out the final details of the roadmap at a meeting of the Covid-S committee on Sunday, Mr Johnson will present the blueprint for rubber stamping by the full Cabinet on Monday morning.

He will then address MPs shortly after 3pm and, four hours later, the nation in a press conference from Downing Street.

A number of easements contained in the document have already been signed off, including the full reopening of schools, a limited resumption of care home visits indoors, socialising with one other person outdoors and the later mixing of two households in parks.

However, following a week of intense speculation over the speed and scale of unwinding restrictions, senior Downing Street sources have stressed that the blueprint will not be finalised until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.

Such is the secrecy surrounding the document, which is said to run to more than 50 pages, that only the so-called “quad” of Cabinet ministers (Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove) have seen it.

Despite the determination to keep the details under wraps, The Telegraph has been told that the roadmap will be divided into at least four “steps” or phases, spaced roughly a month apart and running until at least the end of June.

Insiders have stressed that as part of the “cautious approach” to reopening, sufficient time is needed between each easement to assess the impact on infections.

Within each phase, there will be only limited references to dates for reopening, with timelines expressed more as aspirations.

Below, we have pieced together a rough outline of what the roadmap is expected to look like, although the final details could still change.

First step – March 8

From March 8, schools will reopen fully, despite widespread resistance from nine of the country’s teaching unions, who have called for a staggered return for secondaries.

While schools argue the requirement to test all pupils when they first return makes the timeframe logistically difficult, a Government source said: “The ambition has always been to make sure all kids go back at the same time.”

At the same time, care home visits indoors will resume, with residents able to hold hands with an individual friend or relative, subject to testing and appropriate use of personal protective equipment.

Rules prohibiting household mixing outdoors will also be relaxed slightly to enable two people to socialise outdoors, such as for a coffee or picnic.

Towards the end of the first phase, these restrictions will be eased again to allow two different households to meet in gardens or parks over Easter.

Outdoor sports, such as golf and tennis, are also expected to return at a date between Mar 8 and Easter, with a maximum of two people.

Discussions are ongoing about reintroducing the “rule of six” at the same time, allowing up to six people from different households to mix outdoors.

Earlier this week, Whitehall officials had suggested that self-catered holiday lets and hotels could be allowed to reopen for the Easter weekend.

However, by Friday, the mood had changed significantly, suggesting that any staycations in early April are unlikely. The Telegraph understands that the stay-at-home message will remain in place.

A Senior Government source told The Telegraph that they did not expect any indoor mixing between households in at least the first month. “The focus to reunite with families and friends is outdoors to begin with,” they added.

Second step – Early April

Sources have signalled that the second phase will begin around the same time in April, with non-essential retail among the sectors due to reopen.

University campuses could also be open under one scenario discussed this week, along with further education.

A limited reopening of domestic holidays, with people limited to self-catering holidays within their own household, could also be considered in this phase.

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, confirmed on Friday that he was looking at self-contained accommodation for Easter. Wales went into lockdown a fortnight before England.

By Apr 15, the Government will have hit another milestone by offering a first Covid-19 jab to 32 million people aged over 50, which account for the vast majority of Covid-19 deaths.

Ministers have discussed the possibility that by the end of April hospitality venues could begin to reopen outdoors, although there has been no official confirmation of this.

However, the Government has been warned that the hospitality industry stands to lose more than £6 billion in revenue if the Government fails to fully reopen pubs and restaurants before June.

An analysis compiled by UK Hospitality adds that should pubs and restaurants be limited to outdoor only settings in May and June, the Government also stands to lose £1.5 billion from depleted tax receipts and hundreds of thousands of workers continuing to be furloughed.

Kate Nicholls, the trade body’s chief executive, told The Telegraph: “The vaccination rollout and the drop in infections is pointing towards a safe environment from early April, and this is when we should get our businesses open and customers back through the doors.

"A May reopening risks the failure of businesses that are only just hanging on and will be a massive blow to the UK’s economy."

Third step – Mid May

By mid-May, pubs and restaurants could have opened indoors, with former restrictions such as the 10pm curfew and the substantial table meal scrapped.

At this point, the first dose protection given to all over-50s will have taken effect.

Hairdressers are also likely to be among the first easements in this wave, although discussions were held by officials this week about an earlier opening in late April.

Beauticians and other close contact services are also likely to reopen, although it has been suggested that these could be later than hairdressers due to the higher risk of transmission.

Fourth step – June

The easements expected in June are less clear, but ministers are hopeful that more travel within the UK could be possible should case numbers have reached the lows seen last summer.

This could see a fuller reopening of the hospitality and hotel sectors.

Depending on case numbers and the impact of the vaccine on transmission, it is expected that some indoor mixing between households may resume.

July and beyond

As the vaccination programme reaches its final stage, ministers and scientists hope infection rates will have returned to the levels seen last summer.

At this point, greater relaxations for indoor mixing are likely, although Government sources have stressed this week that details are far less certain beyond the initial phases of the roadmap.

Social distancing rules, such as the one-metre plus rule and wearing masks in indoor public spaces and on public transport, are still expected to remain in place until the entire population is vaccinated.

Government sources have claimed that the roadmap is unlikely to set a date for international travel restrictions to be lifted, as there is still considerable concern over foreign variants.

However, ministers are increasingly optimistic that foreign holidays could be possible by the summer, with talks now taking place over an internationally recognised vaccine certification scheme.

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