Ministers have raised the prospect of some social distancing and working from home rules remaining in place after lockdown officially ends in June.
A review released today says that the ‘extent of any relaxation’ of measures in place since January will be linked to the success of the vaccine rollout and a final decision on Covid passports.
Hopes has been high that the June 21 date given as the official end of lockdown would see a lifting of all remaining social distancing measures across England.
The document released today as Boris Johnson gave a Downing Street press conference, at which he said ‘we see nothing in the present data that makes us think that we will have to deviate from that roadmap’.
But the document painted a slightly more cautious picture.
‘The review is looking at key baseline measures, including how and when to safely lift or amend the 1m+ rule and related COVID-secure measures, as well as guidance on working from home,’ it noted.
‘It is also looking at what guidance can be provided to enable individuals to take informed personal choices.
The document released today as Boris Johnson gave a Downing Street press conference, at which he said ‘we see nothing in the present data that makes us think that we will have to deviate from that roadmap’
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (right) suggested that long-term social distancing could look a lot different to how it does now. ‘It probably means things like hand hygiene, things like the fact that people will take time off if they get ill and stay at home rather than going into work – so taking time to take yourself out,’ he told tonight’s press conference.
What did Boris Johnson announce at today’s press conference?
The next step of easing lockdown will go ahead as planned: The PM confirmed that non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and libraries in England will reopen from April 12 while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors. Overnight stays away from home in England will be permitted. The majority of outdoor settings and attractions like zoos and theme parks can also reopen.
Foreign travel: A traffic light system will be rolled out when international travel is allowed again but the PM refused to commit to his target roadmap date of May 17 for resuming flights. The new system will see countries rated green, amber or red based on data including vaccination levels and Covid-19 case numbers. Return travel from countries on the green list will be quarantine-free although people will still need to take tests before their trip and when they return. Ministers said it is ‘too early to say’ which countries will be green.
Vaccine passports: The PM unveiled the initial findings of a Whitehall review into the use of ‘Covid status certification’. The documents will combine vaccination, testing and immunity data and will be used to determine access to large-scale events. The Government has left the door open to the documents being used for access to pubs and restaurants.
Working from home and social distancing: Initial findings from a Government review suggest both WFH and social distancing could continue past ‘freedom day’ on June 21 – the last date in the roadmap. The review said it is looking at ‘how and when to safely lift or amend the 1m+ rule’ as well as other restrictions like working from home. It stressed that the conclusion will ‘depend on the latest data and evidence on the state of the pandemic’ while ‘the extent of any relaxation in social distancing measures’ will be linked to the success of vaccine passports. The findings do not contain a specific target date by which the rules will be lifted.
Return to spectator events: Ministers will run a series of pilot programmes in different venues to test the best ways to bring back crowds to live events. The pilots will be closely linked to the vaccine passports initiative, although the initial events will focus entirely on using testing data to grant access. Participating venues will include the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield and the Circus nightclub in Liverpool. Ministers are also hoping to admit a crowd of up to 20,000 people to Wembley for the FA Cup final on May 15, with a second wave of pilots taking place from the end of May.
Back to normal: A new paper published today by the Government’s SAGE committee said life will not go back to normal this summer even if the PM’s roadmap goes completely to plan. SAGE sources warned that while vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’. The experts claimed that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then.
‘The conclusion will depend on the latest data and evidence on the state of the pandemic and the impact of vaccine effectiveness, as the country progresses through the roadmap.
‘As set out above, the extent of any relaxation in social distancing measures is linked to the questions being explored by the COVID-Status Certification Review including whether COVID-status certification can enable changes to social distancing.’
However chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance suggested that long-term social distancing could look a lot different to how it does now.
‘It probably means things like hand hygiene, things like the fact that people will take time off if they get ill and stay at home rather than going into work – so taking time to take yourself out,’ he told tonight’s press conference.
‘Testing to know if you have got it or not. Those sort of things are likely to be important baseline measures going forward.’
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, asked about when hugging and other interactions could resume, said current coronavirus rates were still too high.
‘The number of people who actually have the virus at the moment is about one in 370 so we really want to get those rates down further before we start to feel that society as a whole has a low level of Covid,’ he said.
Senior SAGE sources said that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’.
All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21 as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.
However, No10’s experts claimed today that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then.
The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90 per cent, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.
Boris Johnson tonight confirmed that shops, pubs and restaurants can reopen from next Monday – amid fears that his wider roadmap for easing lockdown is hanging in the balance.
The PM tried to strike a bullish tone saying the country’s hard work is ‘paying off’ as he held an Easter Monday press briefing in Downing Street, confirming that the next relaxation will proceed on April 12 as planned.
Non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers can get up and running, while bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to serve customers customers.
‘On Monday 12, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,’ Mr Johnson said.
As he struggled to quell rising anxiety about when normal life might resume, he said: ‘We set out our roadmap and we are sticking with it. We see nothing the present data that suggests we will have to deviate from that roadmap.’