New COVID-19 ‘cautious and irreversible’ roadmap announced

The Prime Minister has now outlined his “cautious and irreversible” roadmap out of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The roadmap applies to England only.

While employers may be disappointed that there will no announcements on the continued financial support for businesses until the Budget on 3 March 2021, there is now at least some clarity on the government’s intentions going forward in relation to the reopening of schools and the economy – subject always to the caveat that the government’s final decisions will be based on data, not dates. At least 1 week’s notice will be given each time to confirm whether the restrictions can be eased as planned.

The data which will inform the government’s decisions are:

  • The continued success of the vaccine deployment programme;
  • Evidence that vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated;
  • Infection rates are not risking a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS;
  • The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.

For now, key points and dates to note are as follows:

  • 8 March 2021:
    • All pupils will return to school;
    • Secondary pupils will be tested twice weekly (initially at school and then at home) and families with children and members of their childcare and support bubbles will also be encouraged to be tested;
    • Meeting up with one other person outside will be permitted (including for recreation, subject to social distancing);
    • Clinically extremely vulnerable people will still be advised to shield until the end of March 2021;
    • A single named visitor can visit a care home resident.
  • 29 March 2021:
    • It will no longer be a legal requirement to stay at home;
    • However, individuals should still work at home where they can and minimise travel;
    • Meeting up outdoors with others will be permitted (including in private gardens), subject to the rule of 6 or two households;
    • Outdoor sport and leisure facilities will be permitted to open;
    • Organised outdoor sport will be permitted.
  • No earlier than 12 April 2021:
    • Permitted to open:
      • Non-essential retail;
      • Hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms and holiday lets for individuals or households;
      • Theme parks and zoos;
      • Outside pubs and restaurants, with no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal. The requirement for table service will remain.
  • No earlier than 17 May 2021:
    • Meeting up indoors, expected to be subject to the rule of 6 or 2 households but will be reviewed;
    • Outdoor meeting will be permitted up to a maximum of 30 persons;
    • Organised indoor sport will be permitted;
    • Permitted to open:
      • Indoor pub and restaurants;
      • Cinemas, theatres;
      • Hotels, B&Bs.
    • Some large events may be permitted, subject to set capacity limits;
    • International travel may be permitted.
  • No earlier than 21 June 2021:
    • All legal restrictions on social contact will be removed;
    • All businesses including nightclubs will be permitted to open.

The government is now planning a series of reviews which will consider the handling of COVID-19 post-summer 2021 which will look at (1) how long social distancing and wearing of face masks should be retained; (2) organisation of large events; (3) international travel; (4) COVID status certification.