The last restrictions on public gatherings and businesses won’t be repealed until June at the earliest, but the Prime Minister has made clear his review dates are not promises and remain in his gift depending on how the government perceives coronavirus levels.
Britons will not see any relaxations on the government-imposed lockdown until early March at the very earliest, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, noting the dates on his new roadmap remain completely flexible and are subject to ‘tests’ the government will apply.
Even if the first date is reached without further delay, the present stay-at-home orders in place will only give way days shy of a full year since the first corona lockdown began in March 2020. The country will certainly be in something resembling full lockdown on the first anniversary of lockdowns beginning, therefore, with the best-case scenario only foreseeing one person being allowed to meet one other person in an outdoor place like a park, with social spaces like pubs and beer gardens still firmly closed.
Indeed, Johnson said people would be “legally required to stay at home” until March 29th.
The four tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the COVID-19 roadmap.
Decisions at each step will be made on the latest data and we will be cautious so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) February 22, 2021
Explaining the government’s plan for ending lockdown, the Prime Minister excused the extremely slow speed at which the year-long on-off shutdown of the nation would end, explaining that while he was being cautious, it was because he wanted the return to freedom to be irreversible.
Under the terms of the plan, there will be four dates in the future, each at least five weeks apart — to show the government whether the previous release had worked or not, Mr Johnson explained — starting on March 8th. Each of these dates would be subject to four tests to determine whether the government believed it would be appropriate to give the public another slice of their lives back, with any delay clearly pushing all remaining dates backwards according to the five-week rule.
The earliest possible day the lockdown could end, assuming no delays, would be June 21st, Mr Johnson said — but such delays have taken place before.
Britons were told in April 2020, for example, that restrictions in place at the time were being extended for three weeks, and would not be lifted until “five tests” were met. Almost a year later, it is arguable whether lockdown was ever meaningfully lifted following that announcement, particularly in areas subject to harsh regional lockdowns between the various national lockdowns.
Thanks to your sacrifices, social distancing is working. But if we stop now, we risk increasing the spread of #coronavirus.
We’re extending the rules by at least three weeks, and will not change the rules until five tests are met ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/KJnDYFguLK
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) April 16, 2020
The Prime Minister’s statement was not short of caveats, in any case, even beyond warnings that he was following the data presented to him rather than committing to firm dates. Mr Johhson stated that despite the world-class vaccine rollout in Britain, “no vaccine can ever be 100 per cent effective… Covid like all viruses will mutate” and whether “it happens now or in nine months”, any relaxation of the rules would cause more deaths.
On vaccines, Mr Johnson said the government was aiming to offer every adult in Britain a first dose by the end of July.
There would be new intrusions into ‘normal’ life as the price for restrictions lifting too, Mr Johnson warned. Among them would be twice-weeky, presumably mandatory, testing for children returning to school. The normalising of constant, routine coronavirus testing may yet spread to other areas of life as the PM confirmed the state would continue to support the provision of free testing.
Urging people to remain patient, Mr Johnson concluded his remarks by stating “the end really is in sight”, that Spring and Summer will be “incomparably different” to last year.
It will be 3 months until we can have a drink in a pub. This is freedom at a snail’s pace.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) February 22, 2021
Vocal lockdown-forever critic and Brexit leader Nigel Farage was quick to speak out against the “snail’s pace” of Mr Johnson’s lockdown plan. Referring to the speed at which ordinary human social activity was slated to return — pub beer gardens from April 12th, indoor pubs from May 17th, nightclubs from June 21st — Mr Farage said: “It will be 3 months until we can have a drink in a pub. This is freedom at a snail’s pace… How many restaurants will survive until 17 May? … Easter is cancelled.”
Ross Clark, comment writer for the government-friendly Daily Telegraph, noted in response to the lockdown roadmap that while Britain was winning the “vaccination race”, it seemed likely the country would be the “last to reopen” in Europe.