Covid: How lockdown restrictions could begin to ease from March

The educational, hospitality and travel sectors are among those eagerly awaiting information on any potential reopening. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson is due to set out a “road map” next month for how England emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

The Prime Minister said last week the “far more sensible approach” is to reopen “safely and cautiously”.

Here is a look at some of the questions around what an eventual lifting of restrictions might look like.

The Government has said reopening schools will be a priority Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

What is likely to reopen first?

Schools. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told MPs it will not be possible to reopen schools “immediately after the February half term”.

But, he said he hoped it would be safe to begin the reopening of England’s schools from March 8.

Suggesting that primary schools might reopen first, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi previously said studies about infection rates at primary schools had been “encouraging”.

Infection rates are much lower among primary school children, he said, adding that rates are around five times higher in secondary schools.

Some experts have said pubs and restaurants should stay shut until May Credit: Nick Potts/PA

What about hospitality?

Earlier this month, some researchers suggested bars and restaurants should stay shut until May.

Dr Marc Baguelin, from Imperial College London, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government, said the opening of the hospitality sector before then would lead to another “bump” in transmission.

The British Beer and Pub Association has called for the Government to lay out a “clear road map” for the sector, warning that the prospect of places being forced to shut until May requires an extension of financial support “for them to survive and to brewers whose businesses also face jeopardy”.

An announcement is expected on quarantine hotels for arriving travellers Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

And how does it look for travel?

Boris Johnson confirmed that UK nationals and residents returning to Britain from "red list" countries will be forced to quarantine for 10 days in government-provided accommodation such as hotels.

It is hoped the law will protect the UK against the import of new variants, some of which are thought to be more deadly than the original strain, with it not yet certain what impact the mutants could have on the vaccine rollout.Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said quarantine hotels are “absolutely essential” and suggested the lack of quarantine measures earlier in the pandemic had been “a major factor” in contributing to the current situation.

Ministers have warned in recent days that it is “too early” to speculate around holiday plans, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said: “I think we’re going to have a great British summer.”

Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have both struck cautious tones on easing restrictions Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

What have the some of the top medics and scientists said about easing restrictions?

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned even a “very small change” while cases are high could cause a rapid resurgence, while chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned against “getting too hooked” on specific dates for easing measures.

Experts from Edinburgh University said releasing all measures at the end of April – once all those in the first phase of the vaccination programme covering over-50s, those in high-risk groups and frontline health and social workers are expected to have been offered a jab – could still lead to a huge surge in cases.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the university said a “gradual relaxing” would be “much more likely to keep the pressure off the NHS than any wholesale relaxation”.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of SPI-M, has cautioned that we need to be “extremely careful” around easing restrictions, recalling early summer last year when he said “we very much flipped from everyone needs to stay at home to ‘let’s go and all go to the pub and eat out to help out’ – and we got this resurgence over the summer”.

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