Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set for Monday to begin phasing out England’s third and – he hopes – final lock-in of coronavirus, as a faster UK inoculation drive eases pressure on hard-hit hospitals.
In a statement to Parliament, Johnson is expected to confirm the reopening of all English schools on March 8 in the first major step towards restoring normal life, almost a year after he introduced the first home order.
The Conservative prime minister, who was accused of acting too late and relaxing the curbs too early last year, says he will present a “cautious but irrevocable” plan to ensure no more blockades.
“Today I will work out a roadmap to gently get us out of the lock,” he said in a Downing Street edition ahead of his lower house appearance and a televised press conference later Monday.
“Our priority has always been to get children back in school, which we know is crucial to their education as well as their mental and physical well-being, and we will also prioritize ways for people to reunite with their loved ones in a safe way. . “
The UK is one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 120,000 deaths.
It was the first nation to launch a mass vaccination campaign in December, but rising numbers forced a return to lock-in in early January following a relief of curbs during Christmas.
More than 17 million people have now received at least one first dose of vaccine – a third of the adult British population.
Fall number falls
Over the weekend, the government said it would try to offer a dose to everyone over the age of 50 in mid-April and to all other adults by the end of July, which accelerated the later schedule from September earlier.
The number of cases is falling again and early evidence suggests that vaccinations reduce serious illness, after some intensive care units were exceeded last month and queues of ambulances formed outside hospitals that could not transfer their patients.
Johnson said the planned relaxations would be uniform across the UK, following the introduction of regionalised levels last year, but stressed that further progress would be due to factors such as all new Covid variants.
This, and the proof that the National Health Service is not facing any more “unsustainable pressure”, offers Johnson some flexibility against pressure from conservative backbenchers who are pushing a cast iron timeline to normalcy during the summer.
Education unions meanwhile say it is “careless” to let all students return on the same day, but the goal of March 8 is supported by the main opposition party.
“We all want this to be the last lock so we have to get out of it in a measured way, but make sure we are not back where we started in a number of weeks or months,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told Sky. News.
– ‘Not through this yet’ –
As of March 8, the government plans to allow elderly residents in nursing homes to receive indoor visits from a designated relative or friend and is expected to allow limited social mixing of the public outdoors.
But the full reopening of shops and pubs and attendance at sporting events such as Premier League football will be delayed until later.
“Understandably, we want to return to normal, but it’s right to be careful,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, noting that nearly 20,000 people remain in hospital with Covid.
The decentralized governments of Scotland and Wales, which administer their own health policies, are allowing some younger pupils to return to school this week.
In Northern Ireland, the administration will resume junior classes on 8 March but has extended its total lock-in until 1 April.
John Edmunds, an epidemiologist and government adviser at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC: “Most of us are still not immune.
“Relieving too fast will increase the pressure, matters will increase again. We are not through this yet.”