Johnson will tell the House of Commons on Monday afternoon that as of March 8, schools will finally reopen across England, as well as some very limited return of outdoor social interaction, including sitting on a park bench and having a coffee, which is currently not allowed.
The Prime Minister will also announce that as of March 29, as schools go on their Easter holiday, further restrictions on social interactions will be lifted, allowing groups of six to meet outdoors and entire households to socialise. Downing Street placed particular emphasis on wanting to give something to elderly and vulnerable people, now vaccinated, who have been kept apart from their families for nearly a year.
Downing Street emphasized that these are planned measures and should the Covid-19 situation worsen in England, they could be pushed back and the country kept in lockdown.
The announcement will mark step one of a four-step path out of lockdown. Johnson will tell lawmakers later that his government’s decisions “will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far.”
The speed at which the country will exit lockdown will be set against four key tests: how the vaccine rollout is going; how vaccines are affecting hospitalizations and deaths; infection rates staying low; new variants not undermining the other three tests.
Johnson will say that his priority has “always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing, and we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones.”
It is possible that his cautious approach and focus on schools and families rather than economics will draw criticism from a number of his Conservative backbenchers who have been pushing for a faster exit from lockdown since the summer. At the time, infection rates had fallen and government sources told CNN at the time that priorities had shifted from containing the spread to reopening the hospitality industry. As the summer months ended, infections returned and the virus mutated, requiring urgent action to halt the spread.
The UK’s vaccine rollout has been lauded, as a greater percentage of British citizens have been vaccinated than any of its European neighbors.
Emerging research showing that vaccines are starting to reduce the risk of hospitalization have provided Johnson and his government a further boost. On Monday, scientists in Scotland reported that people who had received a single dose of either the Pfizer of AstraZeneca vaccines were up to 85% and 94% less likely to be admitted to hospital, respectively, according to UK news agency PA Media.
The speed of the vaccine rollout has provided a rare success in the pandemic for Johnson, as the UK remains Europe’s worst country in both deaths and infections. It is also the global leader in deaths per 100,000 citizens, according to Johns Hopkins University.