In the wake of the UK’s latest lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a four-step plan that the government hopes will allow England to reopen safely. This process is currently projected to start on 8th March, and each of the four stages will last a minimum of five weeks. Johnson has made it clear that reopening could be delayed if data does not show improvement.
If all goes according to plan, each step will consist of four weeks for collecting and assessing data, followed by one week for businesses and individuals to prepare for the next stage. The new plan will implement changes and lessen restrictions across England. As such, the regional tier system that was used for much of 2020 is not expected to return.
The first stage of England’s plans for reopening the country will begin on 8th March and last until at least 12th April. There will be two separate parts within this stage, with the first including the following measures:
- All non-college students will return to school, and school-related clubs that take place before and after the school day will also resume. For part of this time, students who are in secondary school and their older peers will be required to wear masks in classrooms and shared spaces.
- People will be permitted to meet with one other individual in an outdoor setting for purposes besides exercise, such as a picnic.
- Residents in care homes will be able to receive one regular visitor.
Other than those exceptions, England’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect.
The second portion of step one is scheduled to begin on 29th March and will further lessen restrictions by allowing for the following changes:
- Outdoor gatherings of up to six people, or up to two households, will be permitted in both parks and gardens.
- Outdoor sports for both children and adults will be allowed.
During this time, the official stay-at-home order will cease, but people are encouraged to remain in their local areas. Overseas travel restrictions will not be changed. In addition, people will continue to be encouraged to work from home whenever possible.
The second stage in England’s plan will be implemented no earlier than 12th April. Step two will include the following changes:
- Non-essential retail shops, hair and nail salons, and public buildings like libraries and museums will be allowed to reopen.
- Outdoor venues will be allowed to reopen. This will include restaurants and pubs, but only for outdoor seating and beer gardens. Customers will be required to be seated, but will not be required to have a meal to order alcohol.
- Zoos and theme parks will be allowed to reopen, but indoor mixing between households will not be allowed, and outdoor mixing will also be subject to limitations.
- Indoor leisure facilities—such as gyms and pools—will be allowed to reopen, but guests may only attend with members of their own household.
- Holiday lets will be allowed to reopen as long as they have no shared facilities and are rented for only one household at a time.
- Weddings, receptions and wakes will be allowed to increase attendance to 15, and funerals may increase attendance to 30.
Although not technically a part of step two, it is during this time period that university students may first receive further information regarding the resumption of face-to-face classes. This review is scheduled to take place after Easter.
This step will not come into effect until at least 17th May, depending on the results of steps one and two. When step three is implemented, it will include the following:
- Most restrictions related to outdoor social events will be lifted, although gatherings must still be limited to 30 attendees.
- Indoor social gatherings will be allowed, with attendance limited to six people or two households.
- Indoor venues—such as pubs, restaurants, hotels, play centres, cinemas and group exercise classes—will be allowed to reopen. The aforementioned attendance limits for both indoor and outdoor settings will apply to pubs and other hospitality venues.
- Weddings will be allowed to increase attendance to 30 people and other events, like christenings and bar mitzvahs, will also be allowed.
- Indoor sports venues will be allowed to welcome whichever is lower between either half of their capacity or 1,000 people. Similarly, outdoor venues will be allowed to have the lower number between half capacity or 4,000 attendees. The largest venues—such as football stadiums—will be allowed to receive whichever is lower between 10,000 fans or one-fourth capacity.
While not an official part of step three, on 17th May, the Department for Transport could potentially allow international travel to resume. The department is expected to first report on this subject on 12th April, but regardless of its findings, travel itself will not be possible until 17th May at the earliest.
The final stage in plans for England to reopen will not be implemented until 21st June at the earliest. During this time, the following changes would go into effect:
- Large events will be allowed to resume.
- All legal limits involving gatherings will end.
- Night clubs and any other businesses still closed will be allowed to reopen.
It is worth noting that the government may implement or maintain some social distancing measures during step four, but these details are expected to be reviewed at a later date.
Elsewhere in the UK
It is important to understand that this four-step plan is only being applied in England.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the country will return to a tiered system of restrictions once lockdown measures are lessened. As such, different parts of Scotland may be subject to varying restrictions. Sturgeon is expected to provide more information on phases for easing restrictions at a later date.
Meanwhile, in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford stated that he hopes to be able to end the country’s stay-at-home order in the next three weeks. At that time, some businesses—such as non-essential shops and hairdressers—would be allowed to reopen.
In Northern Ireland, the government has expressed doubt that restrictions will be able to be reduced at any time before Easter. Current lockdown measures are expected to be reviewed on 18th March.
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