WHILE Boris Johnson has insisted lifting the lockdown will be determined by data not dates, he has nonetheless given us a range of days on the calendar to watch, the most important of which is June 21, when the lockdown in England could finally be over.
Caution was the Prime Minister’s watchword when he addressed MPs and there are a lot of caveats in the UK Government’s 60-page roadmap, a “one way road to freedom,” as Mr Johnson put it.
Indeed, the dates given for each of the four steps to normality are reliant on data. Each step has a five-week time-lag before the next to see what effect it will have on the rate of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
The document explains: “Decisions on easing restrictions will be led by data rather than dates. It takes around four weeks for the data to show the impact of easing restrictions and the Government will provide a further week’s notice to the public and businesses ahead of any further changes.
“For that reason, there will be at least five weeks between the steps in the roadmap. The indicative, ‘no earlier than’ dates in the roadmap are all contingent on the data and subject to change.”
In the roadmap, therefore, this review timetable means two key things for a return to the normal life south of the border we once knew. While schools will reopen next Monday on March 8, people will not be able to go to the hairdressers until after April 12 or stay overnight with a loved one unless they are regarded as being in the same household, the so-called social bubble.
This means that anyone hoping things will be largely back to normal by Easter will be sorely disappointed. But after April 12, people will be able to go to the pub and to a restaurant so long as the service is outdoors.
It will only be after step three and no earlier than May 17, that things will really begin to look normal with pubs and restaurants operating indoors, cinemas and museums will throw open their doors and sports events with up to 10,000 people being able to watch a major league football match. So, the Euro football championships should be viable at least from the UK’s point of view.
And by the summer solstice, hopefully, all social restrictions will be a thing of the past. All limits on the number of people at weddings, for example, should be lifted.
Just when international travel can resume is, however, up in the air.
The Global Travel Taskforce will report on April 12 with recommendations aimed at facilitating a return to international travel as soon as possible while still managing the risk from imported cases and so-called “variants of concern”. Following that, the Government will determine when international travel should resume but no earlier than 17 May. Which means summer holidays could still be possible but probably not before June.
All the while during this process the Government and its medical and scientific advisers will be watching the numbers with a gimlet eye with all adults set to be vaccinated by the end of July.
To reuse a famous phrase, this may not be the end but it may be the beginning of the end.
Of course, everyone desperately wants this to be the last lockdown. The UK, as a whole, can only hope that lessons learned will mean that the slow and careful easing of restrictions across the four nations will see the pandemic of 2020/21 finally enter the history books.