Lockdown roadmap: New rules for delayed final stage explained

·4 min read
All legal limits on social contact should be lifted from 19 July (PA)
All legal limits on social contact should be lifted from 19 July (PA)

Boris Johnson has confirmed England’s final phase in lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions will be delayed by four weeks, from 21 June to 19 July.

It comes after the continued spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India, cast doubt on the government’s original plan to scrap restrictions next Monday.

Mr Johnson said that he and health officials would review the data in two weeks time and “reserve the possibility” to speed things up if figures improved, but that the hold-up was necessary to “give the NHS that extra time”.

The target of offering vaccines to all adults by the end of July has now been brought forward to the new July deadline, with those in England over the age of 23 able to book their first jab from tomorrow.

Because of the delay, more people will be able to receive their second Covid-19 jab before all restrictions end, with the prime minister announcing that all over-40s will be offered their second vaccine eight weeks after their first. It is hoped that around two-thirds of adults will have been offered two doses of vaccine by 19 July.

Government data up to 13 June shows that of the 71,672,208 jabs given in the UK so far, 41,698,429 were first doses while 29,973,779 were second doses.

The last major relaxation of restrictions took place on 17 May when indoor household mixing resumed in England, which allowed social mixing at people’s homes provided that gatherings consisted of no more than six people or two households.

Hugging was also allowed once more last month, although people have been urged to do so with discretion, and groups of up to 30 people were permitted to meet up outdoors.

Mr Johnson unveiled the staged approach to easing lockdown in February – but, while he pencilled in dates for lifting different rules, he said that numbers of infections, hospital admissions and deaths would determine the final decision each time.

Since 29 March, the “rule of six” has meant that six people are able to meet outdoors, while outdoor group sports and leisure have also been allowed. This was followed on 12 April by the reopening of non-essential shops, as well as pubs and restaurants for outdoor hospitality.

News of the setback has already sparked anger in the entertainment industry; theatres must remain socially distanced, and nightclubs have been closed for well over a year now. Adrian Swain, regional operations director at Brighton’s PRYZM, described the delay to reopening as “catastrophic” and a “kick in the teeth”.

While many will be disappointed by the announcement, Mr Johnson did announce some changes which should help to soften the blow. So, what happens next and what has actually changed?

From 21 June: England will remain at Step 3 for a further four weeks, with the rule of six set to continue indoors, alongside limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas.

The cap on the number of permitted wedding guests in England will be lifted to allow plans to go ahead. As with current rules for funerals, the number of attendees will be determined by how many people the venue can accommodate with social distancing measures in place.

However, food and drink must be ordered, served and consumed by guests seated at a table, and dancing indoors is still not permitted, except for the couple’s first dance.

Meanwhile, those aged 40 and over will have their second doses brought forward from the planned 12-week interval to eight weeks.

People will be advised to continue to work from home where possible, nightclubs will stay shuttered, and legal limits on social contact will remain in place.

5 July: Ministers will review data concerning case rates, infections and hospital admissions across England to determine if they can bring forward the four-week delay.

“We will monitor the position every day and if, after two weeks, we have concluded that the risk has diminished, then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four, and a full opening, sooner,” Mr Johnson said on Monday evening.

From 19 July: All legal limits on social contact should be lifted from 19 July, with the prime minister labelling the date “terminal”.

Once social distancing is completely eased, nightclubs should be able to reopen and restrictions on events and live performances will finally be lifted.

What conditions must be met?

The timetable for lifting restrictions remains subject to four tests at each stage, including the success of the vaccination rollout, the effectiveness of the vaccination programme at reducing hospital admissions and deaths, infection rates, and the impact of any new coronavirus variants.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that he had decided to delay the 21 June relaxation after at least one of his four tests for easing restrictions – that the risks are not fundamentally changed by new variants – had failed to be met.

Infections caused by the Delta variant will be monitored closely over the next few weeks after experts said it was the driving force in cases accelerating, estimating that it is between 40 per cent and 80 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first found in Kent.

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