- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce Monday how and when lockdown restrictions will start to be lifted in England.
- He is slated to give a televised press conference at 7 p.m. London time.
- Johnson is expected to confirm that schools in England will reopen on March 8, and reveal more details on other restrictions set to be lifted.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce Monday how and when lockdown restrictions will start to be lifted in England.
Government ministers are expected to discuss details of the "roadmap" for cautiously easing lockdown Monday morning. The prime minister will then outline the proposals to parliament later this afternoon, before giving a televised press conference at 7 p.m. London time.
Johnson is expected to set out the latest data on infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as early data showing the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines.
He is also expected to confirm that schools in England will reopen on March 8, and reveal more details on other restrictions set to be lifted.
The government said in a statement that the lifting of the country's third lockdown, in place since early January, "will seek to balance health, economic and social factors with the very latest epidemiological data and advice."
Data, not dates
Johnson has repeatedly said that the relaxation of measures will be cautious and driven by "data, not dates." However, he has also said he wants the lifting of restrictions to be "irreversible" as he comes under pressure from members of his Conservative Party to re-open the economy.
Nonetheless, the government has maintained that the easing must be done in stages to avoid any leaps in infection rates.
"Today I'll be setting out a roadmap to bring us out of lockdown cautiously," Boris Johnson said in comments released late Sunday.
"Our priority has always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing, and we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely."
"Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe," he added.
Four key tests
Johnson said the government has set four key tests which must be met before Britain can move through each step of the plan. These are:
- That the vaccine deployment program continues successfully.
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths in those vaccinated.
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalizations which would put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service.
- That its assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new coronavirus variants of concern.
The government said that as the four tests are currently being met, the first step to lifting lockdown restrictions will proceed from March 8. The government has already said that care home residents will be able to have one visitor from that date.
After schools are reopened, the government has signaled that more measures could be eased to allow for limited outdoor socializing and sports.
The BBC reported Monday that from March 29, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households are expected to be allowed, and that outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts could reopen. The broadcaster added that "it is also understood that people will once again be able to travel out of their areas – although guidance will likely still recommend staying local, and overnight stays will not be permitted." It's uncertain when pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen.
Variants and vaccinations
The U.K. has been one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with the fourth-highest number of infections after the U.S., India and Brazil. To date, it has counted over 4.1 million coronavirus cases and has seen 120,810 fatalities as a result of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
It saw a sharp rise in cases heading into winter as a new, more infectious strain of the virus emerged in the southeast of the country. It has now become the dominant strain of the virus across the country, and has been detected in numerous countries worldwide, alongside other more virulent strains of the virus.
Some virus mutations have prompted concern among experts who worry they could render coronavirus vaccines less effective, although early data shows most candidates remain effective to a large extent and vaccine makers are already working on second-generation jabs to target variants.
One silver lining in the U.K.'s experience of the pandemic has been its vaccination response. It was the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine, the candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech, and to roll out the shot in early December to its most elderly members of the population, care home workers and healthcare and hospital staff.
It then approved and starting administering the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford jab, a cheaper vaccine that's produced in the U.K. and is easier to transport and store than rival jabs, allowing it to maintain an enviable rate of immunizations.
It has since expanded the rollout to more priority groups, such as all those deemed clinically vulnerable, and plans to vaccinate every U.K. adult citizen before the end of July, bringing forward that target from September. As of Saturday, over 17.5 million adults have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with over 600,000 having received both doses, according to government data.
Data shows that new infections are falling, with early studies indicating that coronavirus vaccines also help to prevent transmission of the virus, as well as preventing serious disease.
In the last seven days, the U.K. has seen 77,432 new cases of the coronavirus, down 16.2% from the previous weekly count. The number of deaths in the last seven days, 3,414 fatalities, is also 27.4% lower than the previous seven-day count. Hospitalizations are also falling.
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