The Prime Minister set out yesterday the four-step roadmap that will guide us out of lockdown. We believe this will be a one-way road to freedom. And this journey is made possible by the pace of the vaccination programme.
In England, everyone in the top four priority groups was successfully offered a vaccine by the middle of February.
At every stage, our decisions will be led by data not dates. That means any decisions about moving from step to step will be subjected to four tests.
Before taking each step we will review the data against these tests and because it takes at least four weeks for the data to reflect the impact of relaxations in restrictions and we want to give the country a week’s notice before each change - there will be at least five weeks between each step.
The Chief Medical Officer is clear that moving any faster would mean acting before we know the impact of each step, which would increase the risk of us having to reverse course and re-impose restrictions. And the Prime Minister has been clear, that we can’t take that risk.
Step one will happen from 8 March, by which time those in the top four priority groups will be benefiting from the increased protection they receive from their first dose of their vaccine.
All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be. That’s why the Prime Minister has repeatedly said that schools would be the last to close and the first to reopen.
And based on the experts’ assessment of the current data against the four tests, two weeks from today, pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face-to-face teaching, supported by twice-weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils. Breakfast and after school clubs can re-open. And students on university courses requiring practical teaching, specialist facilities or onsite assessments will also return
Some will still need to continue learning online. But we will review the options for when they can return by the end of the Easter Holidays.
From 8 March, people will also be able to meet one person from outside their household for outdoor recreation – such as a coffee on a bench or a picnic in a park - in addition to exercise.
But the Government are advising the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable to shield at least until the end of March. Every care home resident will be able to nominate a named visitor, able to see them regularly provided they are tested and wear PPE.
From the 29th of March, people will no longer be legally required to stay at home but many lockdown restrictions will remain.
The Rule of Six will return outdoors, including in private gardens and outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted on the same basis, so that families in different circumstances can meet. Outdoor sports facilities – such as tennis and basketball courts, and open-air swimming pools – will be able to reopen and formally organised outdoor sports will resume, subject to guidance.
People should however continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel wherever possible.
Step 2, which will be no earlier than 12 April, will see the opening of non-essential retail, personal care premises, and public buildings, including libraries and community centres.
Some Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will also reopen, as will most outdoor attractions such as outdoor hospitality venues, zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas. Self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday-lets, but only for use by individuals or household groups.
We will also begin to re-open our pubs and restaurants outdoors. And there will be no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal.
Step three will begin no earlier than 17 May. Most restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, subject to a limit of thirty. And this is the point when you will be able to see your friends and family indoors - subject to the Rule of Six or the meeting of two households.
We will also reopen pubs and restaurants indoors along with cinemas and children’s play areas, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs. Theatres and concert halls will open their doors, and the turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue. And we will pilot larger events using enhanced testing, with the ambition of further easing of restrictions in the next step.
Step 4 will begin no earlier than 21 June. With appropriate mitigations, we will aim to remove all legal limits on social contact, and on weddings and other life events.
We will re-open everything up to and including nightclubs, and enable large events such as theatre performances above the limits of step 3, potentially using testing to reduce the risk of infection.
Our journey back towards normality will be subject to resolving a number of key questions and to do this we will conduct four reviews.
One will assess how long we need to maintain social distancing and face masks.
This will also inform guidance on working from home – which should continue wherever possible until this review is complete. And it will be critical in determining how Parliament can safely return in a way that I know Hon Members would wish.
A second review will consider the resumption of international travel which is vital for many businesses which have been hardest hit including retail, hospitality, tourism and aviation. A successor to the Global Travel Taskforce will report by 12 April so that people can plan for the summer.
The third review will consider the potential role of Covid-status certification in helping venues to open safely but mindful of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy.
And the fourth review will look at the safe return of major events.
As we proceed through these steps we will benefit from the combined protection of our vaccines and the continued expansion of rapid testing. The Government will extend the provision of free test kits for workplaces until the end of June and families, small businesses and the self-employed can collect those tests from local testing sites.
The Prime Minister’s roadmap has set out a course for a cautious easing of national restrictions, which will ensure we do not undo the incredible progress we have made so far. Together we will cautiously move out of lockdown, so we do not risk the sacrifices each and every one of us has made to keep each other safe as we slowly return to our normal way of life.