Boris Johnson looks set to outline next month the criteria he will use to decide when to lift the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England.
The prime minister said today schools will remain closed until at least 8 March, with the “roadmap out of lockdown” to be revealed in the week of 22 February.
Johnson will likely include death and hospital admission numbers, as well as virus changes and the speed of the vaccine rollout, in his assessment.
When the national lockdown exit strategy is laid out for England, what will it look like?
Which parts of England will reopen first?
Schools look likely to be the priority for reopening.
Johnson has previously written that “keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible”.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday that “education will continue to be our priority”.
He added: “Throughout the pandemic we’ve done everything we can to keep schools open, I continue to think that was the right call.”
Hinting that primary schools might reopen first, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi has said studies about infection rates at primary schools have been “encouraging”.
Infection rates are much lower among primary school children, he said, adding that rates are around five times higher in secondary schools.
When will pubs, bars and restaurants reopen?
Earlier this month, some researchers suggested bars and restaurants should stay shut until May.
Dr Marc Baguelin, from Imperial College London, who sits on the government advisory group SPI-M, said opening the hospitality sector before then would lead to another “bump” in transmission.
Watch: When will the lockdowns end in each UK nation?
The British Beer and Pub Association has called for the government to lay out a “clear roadmap” for the sector, warning that if pubs can’t reopen until May, an extension of financial support will be required “for them to survive and to brewers whose businesses also face jeopardy”.
What will happen to air travel after lockdown?
Airline bosses are demanding the government provides an “urgent roadmap for the reopening of air travel” ahead of an expected announcement confirming the introduction of quarantine hotels for arrivals.
Whitehall sources have suggested ministers may opt to make quarantine hotels mandatory for people arriving in England from coronavirus hotspots, rather than all destinations.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said quarantine hotels are “absolutely essential” and suggested the lack of quarantine measures earlier in the pandemic has been “a major factor” in contributing to the current situation.
Ministers have warned in recent days that it is “too early” to speculate around holiday plans, but health secretary Matt Hancock has previously said: “I think we’re going to have a great British summer.”
What have the scientific experts said about easing restrictions?
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that even a “very small change” in restrictions while cases are high could cause a rapid resurgence, while chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned against “getting too hooked” on specific dates for easing measures.
Experts from Edinburgh University said releasing all measures at the end of April – once all those in the first phase of the vaccination programme covering over-50s, those in high-risk groups and frontline health and social workers are expected to have been offered a jab – could still lead to a huge surge in cases.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the university, said a “gradual relaxing” would be “much more likely to keep the pressure off the NHS than any wholesale relaxation”.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of SPI-M, has cautioned that we need to be “extremely careful” around easing restrictions, saying that last summer “we very much flipped from everyone needs to stay at home to ‘let’s go and all go to the pub and eat out to help out’ – and we got this resurgence over the summer”.
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