Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday put the final touches on his roadmap to lift the blockade of England from next month, as new data suggested Covid-19 infections were falling by 3-6 per cent a day.
Johnson will confirm plans Monday for a massive return to school on March 8, but will then proceed with a “measured” reopening of much of the economy until the summer. He has said he wants to ensure “cautious but irreversible” progress in treating the virus which has caused nearly 120,000 deaths.
The new rules will also allow a designated visitor for those living in care homes. Residents will be able to name an individual who will be required to undertake a side leak test and wear protective equipment.
The individual cannot be changed. Although holding hands will be allowed, further close contact will be discouraged.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is just the first step in getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection level low, to allow for larger visits in a step-by-step manner in the future. “
Insiders say the publication of the roadmap will see a decisive shift away from strict legal restrictions – backed by heavy fines – towards an approach based on encouraging people to take care.
Rules on social distance are under consideration, but people will still be encouraged to wash their hands and wear masks to control the spread of the disease as the economy gradually opens up.
Government scientists Friday put the official R rating, the average number of people to whom an infected person passes the virus is in the range of 0.6 to 0.9 for the UK as a whole. A week ago the range was 0.7 to 0.9.
In support of R-number estimates, infection surveys of random population samples – released by Imperial College London on Thursday and the Office for National Statistics on Friday morning – showed a marked drop in positive coronavirus tests.
“These R-range and growth rate reviews are more good news,” said Kevin McConway, professor professor of applied statistics at Open University.
“Things are definitely moving in the right direction and fast enough, but there is still a long way to go. Vaccinations will help more and more, but things have not yet returned to normal and will not be for a long time. ”
Johnson’s plan, to be unveiled on Monday, will set the “earliest date” by which certain sectors and activities can resume, echoing the approach adopted when England emerged from its first blockade in May. of 2020.
The Prime Minister will not repeat the problematic parts of a later plan to ease blockages; regional level system – which imposed different restrictions in different parts of the country depending on infection levels and pitted cities like Manchester against Downing Street.
Target dates will be set – with schools expected to reopen first, followed by non-core stores and then bars and restaurants – on condition that deadlines can pass, especially if new highly transmissible variants emerge. .
As with previous reopenings, the hospitality is expected to start initially with a focus on outdoor operation, with April marked by some ministers as a possible date for pubs to serve departure pliers.
Officials close to roadmap preparations say they will also drop a requirement that pubs serve a “substantial meal” alongside alcohol – the controversial “Scotch Egg” clause.
Each release point is likely to be followed by an interval of two to three weeks in order to assess its impact on the rate of virus reproduction, infections, and hospitalization.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is finalizing his March 3 Budget to consider what Treasury officials call a “cautious” reopening of the economy.
Policies such as the faster scheme and a business-level break are expected to be extended over the summer, while the Budget will have a major focus on supporting jobs and skills.
Sunak has previously been an enthusiastic advocate for reopening the economy as soon as possible, but an aide said: “We have to do it as carefully as possible – we have to do it right.”
Conservative lawmakers are pushing for pubs and restaurants to reopen by Easter, but Johnson is cautious: he will argue Monday that scientific data on the effectiveness of vaccines in stopping broadcasting is not yet conclusive.
Although he referred to “straw in the wind” over the effectiveness of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine, Downing Street said evidence in the Oxford / AstraZeneca strike was not yet conclusive. A chapter on Public Health in England about vaccines will accompany the roadmap.
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