Timeline: how the government plans to ease lockdown restrictions and reopen schools

Nicholas Cecil and Joe Murphy
·4 min read
A deserted Piccadilly Circus during England’s third national lockdown  (Getty Images)
A deserted Piccadilly Circus during England’s third national lockdown (Getty Images)

Lockdown measures will effectively remain in place until at least March 8 after Boris Johnson earmarked that date for the earliest reopening of England’s schools.

The hopeful date is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February, and then giving the jab time to take effect.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Johnson also said he would set out the Government’s strategy for the “gradual and phased” easing of lockdown, in the week beginning February 22.

Here, we explain Downing Street’s key dates and timeline for the lifting of the third national lockdown, dependent on the course of the epidemic and jab roll-out.

They are:

February 15: The target date for offering the Covid-19 jabs to 15 million people in the four top priority groups, those aged 70 and over, care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care staff, and individuals most at risk from the virus.

Week starting February 15: The Government’s scientific advisers believe they will have sufficient data from both the UK vaccination programme, and international ones including Israel, about the effect that jabs are having in preventing hospitalisations and death.

They will know far more clearly the impact of lockdown on reducing coronavirus infections, and also how many people are still in hospital with the disease.

A Government team will carry out a review of all this data. Parliament set to be in recess.

Week starting February 22: Commons set to return and the Government will lay out the results of the review of the data and subject to its findings, will publish a plan for taking the country out of lockdown.

March 8: Three weeks after the last of the priority groups should have received their jabs so the vaccine protection should have kicked in.

From March 8, the earliest possible date and subject to significant lower hospitalisations, prevalence of the disease, and evidence of the vaccine’s impact, the Government will hope to start the re-opening of schools.

After March 8: Ministers will look to lift the other economic and social restrictions as the data permits. Plans to return to a tier system will be considered in coming weeks.

Senior Government sources are stressing that after Tuesday’s grim toll of 100,000 deaths, Boris Johnson is determined to take no chances that would risk letting the virus run out of control.

A Number 10 source said: “Our focus now must be on continuing to fight the virus and to push ahead with our vaccination programme. But work is also starting on the different measures we will use to decide when we can start to carefully and cautiously start relaxing some of the restrictions.”

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, is overseeing research into how much the vaccine reduced onward transmission of infections. Early studies in Israel show encouraging results.

Senior Tory MPs were this morning adopting a “wait and see” approach to Mr Johnson’s plans. One source close to the influential Covid Recovery Group of MPs said: “Let’s see what actually gets published and announced in Parliament.”

The group’s chairman, former chief whip Mark Harper, this week called for a clear plan to begin removing restrictions on March 8. He said the return of schools should be the top priority.

Meanwhile, the boss of vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca hit back at the European Union over claims that he sold doses for higher prices to the UK and US at the expense of the EU’s share.

Pascal Soriot said all doses were sold for the same sum on a “not for profit” basis.

He said the reason for delays in the EU supplies was that the bloc put in its order three months later than the UK, leaving no time to sort out “glitches” in the supply chain.

Speaking to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mr Soriot was confident in the UK roll-out. He said: “By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 to 30 million people. The Prime Minister has a goal to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February, and they’re already at 6.5 million. So they will get there.”

He also backed the decision to delay second doses, adding: “I have no doubt that the UK has made the right choice... thus maximising the number of people vaccinated, which will reach 28 to 30 million by March.”

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