Covid-19 – Boris Johnson to unveil cautious plan to lift England’s lockdown

All schools in England are to reopen on 8 March as part of the prime minister’s “cautious” four-part plan to lift the coronavirus lockdown.

Boris Johnson will share his finalised roadmap with ministers later, before unveiling it to MPs and then leading a news conference at 19:00 GMT.

Up to six people or two households will be allowed to meet outdoors from 29 March, the vaccines minister said.

Rules will be lifted in stages and four conditions must be met at each stage.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast the prime minister would set out more details on the plan in a Commons statement, which is expected at around 15:30.

The first stage of easing will be split into two parts:

  • From 8 March – All schools will open with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed. Recreation in a public space – such as a park – will be allowed between two people, meaning they would be allowed to sit down for a coffee, drink or picnic
  • From 29 March – Outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed. It is understood this will include gatherings in private gardens. Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts will reopen and organised adult and children’s sport, such as grassroots football, will also return

Although schools are set to reopen to all pupils on 8 March, it is thought a few days’ flexibility may be built in to allow measures like testing to be put in place.

Also on 8 March, new rules will allow each care home resident in England to have one regular visitor, with whom they can hold hands.

And from 29 March 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.

The gap between each stage of restrictions being eased is expected to be five weeks, according to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

It comes as children aged three to seven in Wales return to the classroom, along with some students on practical college courses.

Scotland’s youngest pupils are also returning to face-to-face teaching in the first step of the phased reopening of schools there.

Data will be used to inform “every step” of lifting restrictions, Mr Johnson said.

“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.

The roadmap will outline four steps for easing restrictions. But before proceeding to each next step, the government will examine the data to assess the impact of previous changes.

The four conditions that must be met at each phase of lockdown easing are:

  1. The coronavirus vaccine programme continues to go to plan
  2. Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently reducing the number of people dying with the virus or needing hospital treatment
  3. Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospital admissions
  4. New variants of the virus do not fundamentally change the risk of lifting restrictions

Downing Street said the four tests are currently being met so the first step of lockdown easing in England will proceed as planned on 8 March.

The first stage of easing restrictions will be across the whole of England, Downing Street added, due to the current uniform spread of the virus.

MPs will be given the chance to vote on the regulations enabling England’s roadmap in the coming weeks.