PM Unveils Lockdown Exit Plan
What’s the latest?
The prime minister has announced his four-stage plan for lifting lockdown restrictions in England. Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Boris Johnson said the first phase of lockdown easing would begin with the reopening of all schools from 8th March. Outdoor after-school activities and outdoor recreation with one other person will also be allowed from this date – meaning children can attend school sports clubs and people can meet in public outdoor spaces for a coffee or picnic.
From 29th March, groups of up to six people (or two households) will be able to meet outside and in private gardens. Outdoor sports facilities will also reopen and organised sports can restart. While official ‘stay at home’ advice will be withdrawn from this date, many restrictions – including staying local and working from home – will continue.
The second stage will begin from 12th April at the earliest and will allow non-essential retailers, hairdressers, nail salons and gyms to reopen. Holiday lettings in England can also restart, but people can only stay in household groups. Libraries, zoos, community centres and theme parks will be able to reopen and pubs and hospitality can operate outdoors.
The third stage will begin no earlier than 17th May and will allow mixing indoors for two households or groups of up to six people. Most restrictions on outdoor meetings will be lifted and pubs and restaurants can open indoors, along with hotels, play areas, cinemas and theatres. Sports stadiums will also reopen with capacity limits in place and weddings, wakes and funerals will be allowed with 30 people. Finally, stage four will begin no earlier than 21st June and will see all limits on social contact lifted. Nightclubs will also reopen and other events such as festivals may be able to restart with the use of mass testing.
What are the PM’s four tests?
The prime minister said the lockdown plan will be carried out step-by-step, with five weeks between each stage to allow scientists time to assess the latest data. He has also stressed that the government will delay further unlocking if progress on controlling the epidemic stalls – or if any of its four tests are not met.
The first of the four requirements is that the vaccine scheme continues its successful rollout. Secondly, the jabs must be effective in lowering hospitalisations and deaths. Thirdly, infection rates must be kept at a level that does not risk a surge in hospitalisations, and under the fourth test, the level of risk must not be significantly raised by new virus variants. According to ministers, these four tests are currently being met, so plans for lifting restrictions can go ahead.
And what about the vaccine scheme?
The prime minister has made it clear that the vaccine scheme’s success is key to the country’s route out of lockdown. So far, 17.7m people have had their first jab and ministers hope to vaccinate everyone in the UK by the end of July. On Monday, new research from Public Health Scotland showed the scheme appears to be having a “spectacular” impact on preventing serious illness. According to the EAVE II study, four weeks after first doses were given, hospital admissions among recipients of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs plunged 85% and 94% respectively. The findings give the first insight into the real-world impact of vaccination in the UK.
Prince William tells reporters the Duke of Edinburgh, is doing “okay” after spending a sixth night in hospital. At a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Norfolk on Monday, William said doctors were “keeping an eye” on Prince Philip after he was admitted to the King Edward VII hospital in London last Tuesday. The 99-year-old had been feeling unwell for a few days and went to hospital on the advice of his doctor.
Buckingham Palace has not disclosed details of Philip’s illness but said it was not related to Covid-19. According to the palace, he is “in good spirits” and is staying in hospital out of an “abundance of caution”. On Saturday, the Prince of Wales made a 100-mile trip to London from his home in Gloucestershire to visit his father. Under coronavirus guidance, hospital visits can only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
In other news
NHS STAFF GET MENTAL HEALTH HUBS
The NHS is setting up 40 new hubs to help treat staff who have been traumatised by the Covid-19 crisis. Healthcare workers will be able to call the hubs in England to get advice or a referral to psychologists, therapists and mental health nurses.
The new network of support comes amid concern that frontline workers are facing mental health crises after treating Covid patients during the pandemic. According to research published last month, nearly half of doctors, nurses and intensive care staff have reported symptoms of severe depression or anxiety – 40% of whom are suffering probable post-traumatic stress disorder.
POLICE PAUSE HUNT FOR MISSING HIKER
French police have said they will probably have to wait until spring before they resume the search for a British hiker. Esther Dingley went missing in the Pyrenees during a solo hike last year. She was last seen on 22nd November while walking close to the border between Spain and France.
On Monday, French police said they had made “all possible investigations” in France without any result. “We’ll probably have to wait till spring to undertake more searches,” they added. The 37-year-old’s partner, Daniel Colegate, has said he does not believe Dingley fell in the mountains. He has also dismissed the possibility that she may have disappeared on purpose.
VACCINATE KIDS AS 'QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE'
A member of the government’s scientific advisory committee has said children should be given Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible to allow education to restart. Prof John Edmunds said the risk of a coronavirus resurgence would remain in the UK until everyone had had the jab – including children. He told the BBC on Sunday: “There will continue to be major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children.”
Schools in England are due to reopen on 8th March under the PM’s plan for lifting lockdown. The country’s deputy chief medical officer has previously said it is “perfectly possible” that a jab could be licensed for children by the end of 2021.
ALDI TOPS SUPERMARKET POLL
Aldi has been named the UK’s best supermarket for in-store shopping. According to a Which? survey of 3,000 people, customers gave the discount retailer just two stars for store layout and three for the quality of its own-brand products. However, the supermarket trumped its rivals by being the only supermarket to win a five-star rating for value for money.
M&S came second in the survey with five stars for its store layouts and the quality of its fresh and own-brand items, and Waitrose, Lidl and Tesco finished in joint third. Which? magazine editor Harry Rose said: “Many households have felt the pinch during the pandemic… which explains why Aldi came out on top.”
EXPERTS WARN OF ‘SILENT STEALING’
The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has warned fraudsters have adopted a new tactic of “silent stealing”. The think tank said cybercriminals are now defrauding people of small sums of money because victims are less likely to report it. “Trying to steal £10m from a bank is an option, but stealing £10 a hundred thousand times is going to give you a good return and probably go below the radar,” the RUSI said.
The technique makes it tougher for police to sort one-off scams from organised fraud operations. People who work from home are thought to be especially at risk as many businesses fail to ramp up cybersecurity in line with the move to remote working.
A survey from recruitment firm Adecco and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found most UK businesses are ready to start hiring. The poll of 2,006 employers found more than half planned to recruit new staff in the coming weeks, while the number of businesses looking to cut jobs has fallen to 20% – reversing the trend seen at the end of last year. The CIPD said the findings were the first positive signs in the UK job market it had seen in 12 months.