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Boris Johnson sets out key dates for lockdown lifting

England's coronavirus restrictions could finally be lifted by June 21 as part of a four-stage plan, Boris Johnson has announced as he declared "the end really is in sight".

The Prime Minister told MPs the approach was "cautious but also irreversible", with the impact of the vaccination programme replacing the need for lockdown measures.

He said a "wretched year would give way to a spring and a summer that will be very different and incomparably better".

The Prime Minister acknowledged that scientific modelling suggested that lifting lockdown measures would increase Covid-19 cases and ultimately deaths but insisted the restrictions could not continue indefinitely.

In the first phase, all pupils in England's schools are expected to return to class from March 8, with wider use of face masks and testing in secondaries.

Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from that date.

A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin - with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens.

Other measures in the road map set out by the Prime Minister include:

- From April 12 at the earliest: shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens will reopen

- From May 17 at the earliest, two households or groups of up to six people will be allowed to mix indoors and crowds of up to 10,000 in the largest venues will be allowed at performances and sporting events

- Friends and family could finally be allowed to hug each other again, with the road map promising that advice on social distancing will be updated "as soon as possible" and no later than step three

- From June 21 at the earliest, all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted, larger events can go ahead and nightclubs could finally reopen

Making a statement in the Commons, the Prime Minister acknowledged "the threat remains substantial" with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave in April.

Modelling by the Sage scientific advisory panel showed "we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths".

"And this would happen whenever lockdown is lifted - whether now or in six or nine months - because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccines.

"There is therefore no credible route to a zero Covid Britain, or indeed, a zero Covid world and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing and the life chances of our children."

The Prime Minister said his approach would be driven by "data not dates", with the five-week gap between stages allowing time for the impact on infections to be determined and for companies to get ready.

Progress on the next steps out of lockdown will depend on meeting four tests: the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, an assessment of new variants, and keeping infection rates below a level that could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

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