London, United Kingdom:
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will begin lifting England’s third and, he hopes, final coronavirus lockdown on Monday as an accelerating vaccination campaign in the UK eases pressure on hard-hit hospitals.
In a statement to Parliament, Johnson is expected to confirm the reopening of all English schools on March 8th. This is the first major step in restoring normal life, almost a year after he first issued the home stay order.
The Conservative prime minister, accused of acting too late and loosening the curbs too early in the past year, said he will put in place a “cautious but irreversible” plan to ensure no more lockdowns.
“Today I’m going to set up a roadmap to carefully get us out of lockdown,” he said in a publication on Downing Street ahead of his appearance in the House of Commons and a television press conference on Monday.
“Our priority has always been to get children back to school who we know are critical to their education, mental and physical well-being, and we will also prioritize ways that people can be safe with loved ones can come together. “
The UK is one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 120,000 deaths.
It was the first nation to launch a mass vaccination campaign in December, but rising case numbers forced a return to lockdown in early January after the curbs were loosened over Christmas.
More than 17 million people have now received at least one first dose of vaccine – a third of the UK adult population.
Case numbers are falling
Over the weekend, the government announced that it would offer a dose to all over-50s by mid-April and all other adults by the end of July, in order to speed up the latter schedule compared to September.
Case numbers are falling again and initial indications suggest that the vaccinations are reducing the number of serious illnesses after some intensive care units were overcrowded last month and queues of ambulances formed outside the hospitals, unable to transfer their patients.
Johnson said the planned easing would be consistent across England after regionalized levels were introduced last year, but stressed that further progress would depend on factors such as new variants of Covid.
This, plus evidence that the National Health Service is no longer facing “unsustainable pressures”, gives Johnson flexibility to pressure from conservative backers pushing for a cast-iron timeline to normal by the summer.
Meanwhile, unions say it is “reckless” to allow all students to return on the same day, but the March 8 target is supported by the main opposition Labor party.
“We all want this to be the final lockdown, so we have to come out measured by it, but make sure we are not back where we started in a few weeks or months,” union leader Keir Starmer told Sky News .
“Not through yet”
Also beginning March 8, the government plans to allow elderly care home residents to visit indoors from a specific relative or friend, and the public is expected to experience limited social mixing outdoors.
However, the full reopening of retail stores and pubs and participation in sporting events such as Premier League football will be delayed until later.
“We all understandably want to get back to normal, but it is right to be careful,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, noting that nearly 20,000 people with Covid remain in the hospital.
The decentralized governments of Scotland and Wales, which manage their own health policies, are allowing some younger students to return to school this week.
In Northern Ireland, the administration is resuming the younger classes on March 8, but has extended its general lockdown to April 1.
John Edmunds, epidemiologist and government advisor to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC: “The vast majority of us are still not immune.
“Relaxing too quickly increases the pressure, the cases will increase again. We’re not done with it yet.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)