Just over a year since he took to our tellies to order the nation to indefinitely remain indoors, Boris was back on our screens last night confirming that the next stage of lockdown easing will go ahead, as planned, on 12th April. And the nation’s collective sigh of relief could be heard from space*.
The process of unlocking the nation and the economy has always been governed by four principles. If the country is broadly in line with these principles, then the next stage of unlockdowning can go ahead. If not, then it’s rethink time.
The first test is that the vaccine rollout is on course. Currently the target is for all 50-year-olds to be offered a vaccine by April 15th. This looks incredibly possible, if indeed it hasn’t already been met (Wales has claimed it has already hit the target). The government’s vaccine rollout has been a huge success story, meeting the first test for lockdown easing.
The nation's collective sigh of relief could be heard from space...
Linked to this, the second test is that the vaccine is effective. The more data we collect about both the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine the more confidence we can have that it’s incredibly effective, again meeting the government’s test for unlocking.
The third test, that infection rates don’t risk a surge in hospitalisations, putting pressure on the NHS, was last night a low hurdle to step over. Rates remain low, which is perhaps surprising given schools reopening and, if you’ve been in a park this weekend you’ll have noticed, the broader public’s flagrant bending and ignoring of lockdown rules.
This is good news, because it means that hospitalisations continue to drop. The contrast with Europe here is notable, and is at least partly, if not mainly, due to the the impact of having vaccinated around 40% of the population (compared to around 10% on the continent).
Finally the test that the whole house of cards isn’t being threatened by new variants has been met, thanks to strict border controls and a ban on holidays.
The UK variants that many other countries are currently battling have been in widespread circulation here since late Autumn, in any case, but the Brazilian and South African variants remain a concern for when travel reopens.
Which all means that the 12th April lockdown will move forward as planned. So what changes?
Firstly, and most importantly to most of our readers, hospitality will reopen! Sure, it’ll be outdoors only, socially distanced and subject to rule-of-six (or two households), but it means we can start to return to the restaurants, pubs and bars we’ve been missing so much for the last four and a half months (and counting).
Firstly, and most importantly to most of our readers, hospitality will reopen!
In addition non-essential retail (ie all the shops you actually want to go to) will be allowed to reopen. Expect Britain to go on a serious spree!
If your hair looks anything like mine right now (or, indeed, Boris’s) then you’ll no doubt be queuing outside your local hairdresser or barber’s because they’ll once again be good to snip. It is more debatable as to whether Chris Whitty will be taking advantage.
The nation’s healthy people will be relieved to hear that gyms will be open again, freeing up the park for the park-bench boozers and long-grass smoochers who normally hang around. However, exercise classes won’t return until May 17th.
Finally staycations can start again, as self-catered properties can start taking guests. Hotels themselves can’t open, though many with self-contained accommodation will be opening these portions of their properties.
With six days left until we can finally return to some of our favourite activities (oh, and gyms) the wait for normality is nearly over. The next significant date after next Monday will be May 17th, when indoor hospitality reopens and households can mix indoors and stay overnight.
* I realise you can’t hear things in space. Pedant!