Roadmap

Boris Announces Next Step in Reopening as Daily Covid Deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland Fall to Zero

Boris hailed what he called a “very considerable step on the road back to normality” at a Downing Street press briefing this evening, outlining what he’s graciously going to “allow” us to do from May 17th. MailOnline has more.

Pints inside the pub are back from Monday, along with hugs for friends and family and staycations, Boris Johnson said tonight. …

But he urged people to be cautious, saying the country must remain “vigilant” about fuelling cases and the threat from variants.

When the next stage in the roadmap is reached groups of six or two households will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time in months.

Overnight visits will also be allowed, while outdoors the limit will rise to 30 in the most significant loosening yet.

Staycations can also get properly up and running, with hotels and B&Bs that do not have self-catering facilities permitted to open – as well as cinemas and theatres if audiences wear masks.

Crucially the government has decided the risk is now low enough that social distancing can be left more to “personal choice” – meaning that while people are urged to be ‘cautious’, hugs are allowed at private gatherings.

However, despite the very low infection rate and stunning vaccine rollout, social distancing rules will still be maintained at bars and restaurants.

Together with a requirement for table service indoors it means many venues will still struggle to make ends meet.

Advice to work from home where possible will also stay in place.

In other elements of the changes from next week, the much-criticised cap on the number of mourners at funerals will be lifted, while up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings and other life events.

Indoor sport and exercise classes can restart, along with sauna and steamrooms. And secondary pupils will no longer need to wear masks at schools in England.

In a huge relief for many isolated elderly people and their families, care home residents will be able to have up to five named visitors – and up to two at once provided they are tested and follow guidelines. Residents will also have greater freedom to leave homes without having to isolate afterwards.

Worth reading in full.

During the announcement, Boris thanked the public for their commitment and said infections were now at the “lowest level since last July”. That’s also true of Covid deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with zero being recorded in the last 24 hours in all three nations. MailOnline has more on that, too.

The UK has confirmed another 2,357 coronavirus cases and four deaths – all four in Wales – as the country’s Covid alert level was downgraded from four to three, suggesting the virus is ‘in general circulation’ and not rising.

Both figures mark increases on last Monday’s numbers, although that was a bank holiday and the counts are so low that even relatively small changes can appear to have a big effect. The longer-term trend remains flat.

July 30 was the last time that the reported death count was zero and the return marks a huge milestone after England’s toll peaked at 1,243 at the height of the second wave on January 19. The figure includes only death certificates processed yesterday; it does not mean that nobody died of Covid.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Telegraph Science Editor Sarah Knapton has interviewed a number of scientists, including Prof. Carl Heneghan, to ask them whether we really need to wait until June 21st before reopening in full. One of those in favour of reopening sooner is Dr. Jason Oke of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford. He said: “We are rapidly approaching the figure required for population immunity, if we haven’t already reached that point. Even the modellers who have been the most pessimistic in the past have revised their concerns about another wave in the summer.”

Covid Recovery Group Calls on Boris to End All Restrictions on June 21st

Mark Harper and Steve Baker – the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Covid Recovery Group – have come out swinging today, demanding the Government end all social distancing restrictions on June 21st and allow the country to return to normal.

Steve has written a piece for the Sun today arguing it would be morally wrong to prolong our agony after June 21st:

The data is so good, and the doomsayers so wrong, that it cannot possibly be rational or morally right for us to have to socially distance from each other in any context or setting in the UK beyond June 21st. Being social is key to being well so by June 21st at the latest, Britain must meet again, must be reunited in every sense, and we must start healing the broken bonds of the last year with social contact and normal human interaction.

Worth reading in full (although the effusive praise for Boris’s leadership in the throat-clearing section at the top may irritate some readers).

And Mark has written for the Telegraph making a similar argument:

As Parliament returns, with his personal authority enhanced, the Prime Minister faces a choice. Last week, he gave us a fairly clear indication of what he would like to see when he hailed the “good chance” of social distancing being completely scrapped next month. With financial support schemes soon winding down, as they cannot go on forever, removing social distancing is crucial to the survival of many sectors of our economy such as hospitality, that simply cannot make any money and pay wages if it remains in place.

There needs to be early confirmation that social distancing will be completely scrapped from June 21st so that businesses can plan to fully reopen and ensure that we are truly on the “one way road to freedom” that the Prime Minister promised.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Steve Baker appeared on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s talkRADIO show this morning to talk about why all restrictions need to be lifted on June 21st.

The Businesses That Won’t Be Reopening on May 17th

The media, not wanting to bite the hand that feeds it, has mainly focused on what will reopen – and who we will be “allowed” to cuddle – when the next stage of the Government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown is reached on May 17th. Very little has been written about the businesses that won’t be able to open on this date – but the Sun has today reported on the companies that will have to continue to wait (if they can afford to do so).

While many businesses are set to reopen next Monday, some will have to wait until June 21st at the earliest to reopen…

If you want to go clubbing, you won’t be able to do so until another six weeks time – if the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown goes according to plan.

This is due to the difficulty of making them Covid-secure due to limited social distancing and it’s harder to keep areas clean constantly.

Gigs are supposed to restart from June 21st, but they could be allowed to go-ahead with limits on numbers and social distancing from next Monday.

Weddings should be allowed without restrictions on numbers in the final stage of the roadmap – but the Prime Minister is under pressure to relax rules sooner than this.

All restrictions will be lifted from June 21st as long as the pace of the vaccine rollout continues the way it is, and infection rates stay down.

Not quite “all” restrictions will end at this point, however. Reports suggest that rules on mask-wearing will stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. Caps on audience numbers at large events are also being discussed, as are staggered entry and exit times which will mean lots of queuing (thereby increasing the chances of viral transmission).

Indoor events such as gigs will have a capacity limit of 1,000, or 50% [from May 17th] – whichever is the smaller number.

Meanwhile, outdoor events will be able to welcome up 4,000 or 50% capacity.

But outdoor events which are seated, such as football matches, will be capped at 10,000 or 25%.

The Government is said to have already told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events – including ones that will take place after June 21st – will be limited to 45,000. And, of course, tens of thousands of businesses will never reopen due to the damage done to them by a year of lockdowns.

The Sun report is worth reading in full.

Government to “Allow” Us to Cuddle Friends and Family From May 17th

As if we ever needed the Government’s permission, Michael Gove says that Brits will be allowed to hug friends and family from May 17th – that is, “all being well”! MailOnline has the story.

The Cabinet Office minister said “intimate contact” between people in different households is set to return when the latest stage of the roadmap is reached in a week’s time. 

Boris Johnson is set to confirm the relaxation at a Downing Street press conference tomorrow, after the vaccine rollout and plunging infections led to huge pressure from Tory MPs to speed up his plans…

It is also expected that funerals will be permitted to take place for up to 30 people from May 17th – a month earlier than anticipated.

But rules for weddings and “other life or commemorative events” will update as expected, with only 30 guests able to attend indoor receptions until June 21st.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove said that the Government wanted to restore “contact between friends and family”.

He said: “All being well, the Prime Minister will confirm tomorrow that there will be a relaxation, we’ve already indicated a proportionate relaxation on international travel, very limited at this stage because we have to be safe.

“In the same way, as we move into stage three of our road map it will be the case that we will see people capable of meeting indoors.

“And without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing, it is also the case that friendly contact, intimate contact, between friends and family is something we want to see restored.”

Asked if that meant hugs will be allowed again from around May 17th, he said: “Yes.”

Gove also said that “we’ll be seeing more about [whether mask-wearing rules will continue in secondary schools beyond May 17th] shortly”, despite Education Secretary Gavin Williamson signalling last week that the decision had already been made.

Mr Gove said he was “genuinely worried” about Indian coronavirus variants and whether they might take hold in the U.K.. But he said currently there was not an issue that would derail the roadmap.

He said the Government is reviewing whether pupils should continue to wear masks in schools from May 17th – something Gavin Williamson previously said will be dropped.

Ministers have faced calls from union leaders for face coverings to remain in secondary schools and colleges for longer. 

When asked whether mask-wearing in schools will end, Mr Gove said: “What we want to do throughout is balance public health by making sure we can return to normal as quickly as possible.”

“I won’t pre-empt that judgment, we’ll be seeing more about it shortly.”

It seems as though the Government could still bend to pressure from the teaching unions yet.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between reality and spoof: BBC News has produced a report on “how to hug safely” that could well have been published on Babylon Bee.

Stop Press 2: Silkie Carlo, the Director of Big Brother Watch, has pointed out that hugging was never not “allowed”.

UK Covid Deaths Stay in Single Figures for Second Day Running for First Time Since September

The Department of Health’s daily update showed four more Covid deaths in the UK yesterday, making May 2nd and 3rd the lowest two-day total for eight months. MailOnline has more.

The Department of Health’s daily update showed infections are also down more than a quarter compared to last week after 1,946 positive tests were processed in the past 24 hours.

It comes after just one Covid fatality was recorded yesterday. It is the first time there have been single-digit deaths for two days running since September 14th.

The small number of deaths may be partly explained by the bank holiday, when the figures are often lower to due the way fatalities are logged. The seven-day rolling average number of daily Covid deaths is now 13.

People have also been less likely to come forward for tests on weekends or public holidays and many of the daily swabs are now conducted in schools and workplaces.

Meanwhile, latest figures show another 208,362 second vaccine doses were dished out across the UK on Sunday and 79,304 people were given their first injection.

It means 34.6million Britons — more than half — have been jabbed at least once and 15.6million — nearly a quarter of the population — have been fully vaccinated.

The promising data will be seized upon by MPs, pubs and restaurants, who have called for England’s lockdown to end sooner. One restaurant boss claimed reservations have been cancelled because of the ‘terrible weather’ and hospitality chiefs said it was essential that trading goes back to being “unrestricted” on June 21.

Sir Robert Syms, Tory MP for Poole in Dorset, yesterday said: “We need to push the Government to get on with it. A lot of normal life could be returned.” He said the country would “lose another summer” if rules aren’t eased soon.

The PM has so far refused to budge in the face of calls for more freedom, with restrictions set to stay in place until June 21st — touted as England’s independence day.

Worth reading in full.

Life Will “Feel a Lot More Normal By the Summer”, Says Neil Ferguson

Professor Neil Ferguson says that the success of the U.K.’s vaccine rollout means life will feel more normal by the summer, though we will still “not [be] completely back to normal“. His predictions echo recent reports that while many restrictions will come to an end on June 21st, mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events could stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. But with Covid cases and deaths continuing to fall, more MPs – and even papers – are asking why restrictions can’t come to an end now. MailOnline has more.

The SAGE Adviser and Imperial College London Epidemiologist, whose sobering death toll predictions led Britain into its first lockdown last year, said today that he expects the vaccine rollout to help keep the U.K. out of lockdown for good. 

His comments will be seized upon by the Tory MPs calling for the roadmap to normality to be sped up…

Sir Robert Syms, Tory MP for Poole in Dorset, yesterday said: “We need to push the Government to get on with it. A lot of normal life could be returned.” He said the country would “lose another summer” if rules aren’t eased soon. 

The PM has so far refused to budge in the face of calls for more freedom. Trade Secretary Liz Truss this morning dodged questions about whether she thought it should be sped up and told talkRADIO: “We do need to make sure any opening up is irreversible.”

… Professor Ferguson said that jabs appear to work so well that they may hold the virus at bay even in the autumn and winter, when experts fear it will make a comeback like flu. 

He added that the ratio of cases to hospital admissions would be much lower next time around and it was unlikely there will be any danger of the NHS getting overwhelmed.

He admitted “we do expect transmission” when society fully reopens in June but suggested vaccination should replace the need for lockdowns and the U.K. is “in a very good position” to stick to plans for June 21st.

Professor Ferguson’s main fear now is the threat of Covid variants, against which he believes “booster [vaccine] doses” should be administered.

Other advisers to SAGE last week published a study showing that Pfizer’s jab protects well against the South African variant after people have had both doses.

Professor Ferguson said: “The risk from variants, where vaccines are less effective is the major concern. That’s the one thing that could still lead to a very major third wave in the autumn.

“So I think it’s essential that we roll out booster doses which can protect against that as soon as we finish vaccinating the adult population which should finish by the summer…

“It’s much better to be vaccinating people than shutting down the whole of society. 

“So I think, with that one caveat, I am feeling fairly optimistic that we will be – not completely back to normal – but something that feels a lot more normal by the summer.”

Worth reading in full.

“Social” Distancing Could Be Scrapped from June 21st, but Masks Will Remain and Numbers at Large Events Will Be Capped

Last week, Boris Johnson said there was a “very good chance” all Covid restrictions would come to an end on June 21st, yet the latest reports suggest that mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events could stay in place past the “end” of lockdown. The Government is said to have already told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000. So when will restrictions actually come to an end? The Times has more.

The “one metre-plus” social distancing rule will be scrapped from June 21st under plans to ensure that all restaurants, pubs, theatres and cinemas can reopen fully, the Times understands.

Masks will have to be worn in some cases to mitigate the risks but it will mean venues can reopen at full capacity for the first time in 15 months.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed yesterday that some coronavirus restrictions would remain beyond June 21st, causing concern in hospitality…

The Times understands this means theatre and cinema audiences must wear face coverings during performances and there will be strict guidance on ventilation and staggered entry.

Pubs and restaurants may keep one-way systems, screens and a requirement to wear masks while moving around but, crucially, there will be no restrictions on customer numbers.

The Prime Minister is expected to be presented with the recommendations as part of an interim report looking at the success of recent trials, including events held without social distancing. Removing the one metre-plus rule would be a lifeline for thousands of businesses that warned they faced bankruptcy if the Government kept social-distancing rules this summer.

However, the biggest events will still have a cap on numbers beyond June 21st, meaning Wembley Stadium will be half empty for the European Championship final on July 11st. The Government is said to have told UEFA, European football’s governing body, that crowd sizes will be limited to 45,000.

Government sources added that fears of “pinch points” on public transport and at bars around the stadium would prevent a full crowd of 90,000 fans. A source said: “If you’ve got 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s going to be very difficult. It was always quite ambitious to go to 50% but we’ve told UEFA we’re working on a 50% basis.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: MailOnline columnist Dan Wooton says enough is enough. We must make sure June 21st is the day we get our old lives back and if we aren’t we should just take them back.

Stop Press 2: Just one Covid death was reported in the whole of Britain today, leading to further calls for the “roadmap” out of lockdown to be sped up – and for all restrictions to come to an end thereafter.

Dominic Raab Rejects Calls to Speed up the Exit From Lockdown

No amount of good news on the Covid front will persuade the Government to speed up the exit from lockdown. We are “very close now to really turning the corner” in our efforts against Covid, but not close enough that our unlock can be brought forward, according to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. What’s more, he said that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing could continue beyond June 21st. MailOnline has the story.

The Foreign Secretary warned “there will still need to be some safeguards in place” after [June 21st] in comments likely to anger Tory MPs who want all coronavirus rules to be lifted. 

[Talking to Sophy Ridge on Sky News,] Mr Raab rejected calls to speed up the roadmap as he insisted “we are very close now to really turning the corner” in the battle against the disease. 

The success of the U.K.’s vaccination programme and falling infection numbers have prompted demands for the Government to bring forward its reopening dates. 

But the Foreign Secretary this morning urged people to be patient as he insisted June 21st is not far away and “we are nearly there’”.

He argued that “taking steady steps out of the lockdown is the smart way to go” to avoid undoing the progress made during the national shutdown. 

He also… promised that on June 21st “almost all social restrictions will be lifted”.

To justify the “roadmap” continuing at its current slow pace, Raab said: “[The] fourth step out of lockdown is not far away now so I think [we should] just hang on.” But for the sake of the hospitality venues that have yet to reopen (and even those that have reopened outdoors), and for the sake of the nation’s mental and physical health, any amount of time still spent in lockdown is too long.

MailOnline‘s report is worth reading in full.

SAGE Modellers Admit ‘Third Wave’ Probably Won’t Happen

New SAGE modelling to be presented to ministers ahead of stage three of reopening on May 17th will show the risk of a ‘third wave’ of Covid infections in the UK has diminished dramatically and may not happen at all. The Telegraph has more.

The last set of projections, published by SAGE on March 31st, presented ministers with a difficult dilemma because they suggested a third wave of infections could be expected to kill another 15,000 to 20,000 people in the late summer if steps three and four of the exit roadmap were implemented as planned.

Ministers are expected to proceed with step three of the roadmap, with the return of indoor household mixing and indoor hospitality, as modelling teams which provided projections for ministers via the SPI-M subgroup of SAGE are said to be more optimistic.

Professor Adam Kucharski of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who works on modelling provided to SAGE, welcomed the new real world data on vaccine effectiveness.

“There was considerable uncertainty about the impact of vaccines on infection and transmission earlier this year, but recent studies are landing at the more optimistic end of the scale – at least for the dominant B.1.1.7 variant,” he told the Telegraph.

“We could still see some increase in transmission as things reopen, but the resulting impact could be relatively low if the vaccine programme stays on track and we don’t end up with variants that can partially evade immunity.”

New real-world data released last week has allowed SAGE to improve the assumptions which underpin their models on both vaccine effectiveness and rollout. Crucially, a PHE study released last week showed for the first time that vaccines cut “breakthrough transmission” of the virus by about half after a single shot.

“If you look at where they were in early April, compared to where they were in early February, they moved a huge distance,” said James Ward, a mathematician and insurance risk manager, who runs his own Covid model which closely shadows the official ones.

“So actually, it’s not very far for them to move now, from predicting an exit wave of 15,000 to 20,000 deaths to them predicting an exit wave of zero to 5,000, or maybe nothing at all.”

Worth reading in full.

PHE Figures Show Cases Down in Every Region and Fewer Over-80s Catching Virus Than Ever – So Why Seven More Weeks of Restrictions?

Cases are down in every region of England and fewer over-80s are catching the virus than ever before, according to the latest figures from PHE. So why are restrictions not being lifted for another seven weeks? What happened to data not dates? MailOnline has more.

Public Health England’s weekly Covid report found just 6.3 per 100,000 people in the most vulnerable age group caught the disease in the week ending April 25th, the lowest since surveillance data began last June. The infection rate among over-80s peaked at 623 in mid-January.

For over-60s, the rate was 9.1, down from 9.9 the week before and a high of 454 at the peak of the second wave. Both lockdown restrictions and vaccines — which were given to the elderly first — have helped turn the tide on the crisis.

Every English region also saw falls in cases in the past week — despite millions more tests being deployed — with the lowest rates recorded in the South West (14.2), South East (17.2) and the East of England (20.5).

Meanwhile, the Department of Health’s daily update revealed there were 2,445 cases in the past 24 hours and 22 deaths, with infections down 10% from a week ago and deaths up slightly on the 18th last Thursday.

Latest figures show another 462,000 second and 134,000 first vaccine doses were dished out on Tuesday. It means more than 34 million Britons have had at least one dose and 14 million have been fully vaccinated.

Experts said the UK was moving out of the Covid pandemic and into a situation that was much more manageable after separate figures showed the number of people falling ill across Britain is also at a record low.

But despite a plethora of evidence showing the virus is firmly in retreat, England faces at least seven more weeks of restrictions. June 21st has been earmarked as the earliest possible date that most curbs can be lifted.

Worth reading in full.