This Is What You Need To Know About The Government's "Roadmap" For Exiting Lockdown In England
Lockdown measures will be gradually eased from Wednesday, with schools set to reopen after June 1, and pubs, hairdressers, and places of worship following from July.
The government has revealed its "roadmap" for exiting the coronavirus lockdown, following sustained calls for clarity from business owners, the public, and the opposition in Parliament.
The 60-page document lays out a rough timetable for when various businesses, schools, and leisure facilities are likely to be able to reopen, combined with what support measures the government is putting in place to allow the country to safely return to some sense of normality.
The first phase — some lockdown restrictions are eased
The first stage of the government's plan, which comes into effect this Wednesday, will see more people return to work, people encouraged to use face coverings in confined spaces, and a move towards more physical proceedings in parliament.
The UK's chief scientific officer said the guidance on face coverings — distinct from personal protective equipment (PPE) reserved for health workers — had been put in place because "there is evidence, not strong evidence, evidence of a modest effect, in terms of someone protecting someone else" by wearing one when they may have the virus but be asymptomatic.
The government has also eased lockdown restrictions to allow people to exercise outside as much as they want, to sunbathe and picnic in the park in their household groups, and to meet up outdoors with just one other person from a different household.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the adjustments had been made both to reap the health benefits and to ensure that lockdown measures are sustainable.
"We've got to do this for the long haul," he said, "and it's really important to understand that. So taking a very small risk for something which manages to make it more sustainable for people to do has some clear benefits.
"We're not claiming there are no risks, but what we think is a very small and proportionate to the advantage in terms of overall well-being exercise leading to good health and sustainability."
The second phase — some shops, schools, and household regulations
The second step, which the government is currently planning to enact no earlier than June 1, will see a phased reopening of nonessential shops, allowing cultural and sporting events to be broadcast from behind closed doors, and more local public transport reopened in urban areas.
The government also plans for a phased return of schools at this point, with Reception, Year 1, and Year 6 returning first. Secondary schools and further education colleges have also been told to "prepare to begin" some face-to-face contact with students who have exams next year.
Working out what to do about schools was one of the most difficult issues for government, as it involves both children mixing and some household mixing too, but ministers are keen to ensure that young children, particularly those who are vulnerable, do not miss out on the social and welfare benefits of being at school.
It will be up to individual headteachers to decide exactly how to configure their schools, but with only some years back, it is anticipated that they will be able to make use of empty classrooms in order to comply with social distancing.
While the government will not penalise parents who choose to keep children at home once schools reopen, it will "strongly encourage" people to send them in.
The government has also asked SAGE to look at whether the regulations can be changed at this point to allow people to expand their household group to include a second household in the same household group, potentially drawing on the New Zealand "bubbles" model.
"Since 23 March the Government has asked people to only leave the house for very limited purposes and this has been extraordinarily disruptive to people's lives," the government said in its roadmap document.
"In particular this has affected the isolated and vulnerable, and those who live alone. As restrictions continue, the Government is considering a range of options to reduce the most harmful social effects to make the measures more sustainable."
The intention would be to help parents struggling with childcare responsibilities and people who are living alone or socially isolated.
It is not yet clear whether households with over-70s or people in the vulnerable category would be discouraged from mixing. It is unlikely that people who are shielding would be able to mix with a second household.
Whitty said: "What we're trying to do all the way through, given that there are no good answers here, no good solutions here. What we have to do is balance increased risk against the fact that people's understandable need to consider what they do over the next few months, [that's] exactly what we're looking at how we balance those risks."
Vallance added: "We've been asked to look at this and we will look at it and come back with the scientific advice... it's not straightforward at all."
Ministers have also asked SAGE to look into allowing people to gather in slightly larger groups so that couples can hold small weddings.
The third phase — pubs, restaurants, leisure facilities, and more
The government has also laid out plans for a third step, which would see hospitality businesses such as pubs and restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons, places of worship, and leisure facilities such as cinemas reopening — which it says is likely to happen no earlier than July 4.
The plan is for pilots and phased reopenings to ensure that "these types of higher-risk businesses" can operate safely.
The government has also warned that some venues that are by design crowded — such as nightclubs or gig venues — may not be able to reopen at this point, or may be only able to reopen in part.
It intends to set up taskforces to work with different industries and create a plan for how they can open in a "COVID-secure" way.
The document was presented to parliament following prime minister Boris Johnson's televised address to the nation on Sunday evening, in which he laid out some of the measures the government was planning to ease the country out of lockdown.
In his foreword to the document, Johnson wrote: "It is not a quick return
to 'normality.' Nor does it lay out an easy answer. And, inevitably, parts of this plan will adapt as we learn more about the virus.
"But it is a plan that should give the people of the United Kingdom hope.
Hope that we can rebuild; hope that we can save lives; hope that we can safeguard livelihoods."