Prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the government will prioritise the reopening of schools in England, which is hoped to begin on 8 March, with other restrictions eased "then or thereafter".
Speaking in Parliament today, he said that the "first sign of normality" and the country exiting lockdown will be the reopening of schools, however this will not be immediately following the February half-term as originally hoped.
He said that when Parliament returns on the week of 22 February, it will review the current measures and publish a "gradual and phased" plan for taking the country out of lockdown. If targets to vaccinate the four most vulnerable groups of people are hit by 15 February, then the government will look to reopen schools on 8 March. Johnson also confirmed free school meals will be provided to pupils until then.
He said while current measures "do appear to have reduced the R rate", enough data is not yet available "to know how soon it will be safe to reopen our economy".
Johnson also confirmed speculation that travellers from 22 ‘high risk' countries entering the UK will have to isolate in government-provided accommodation, such as hotels, for 10 days. He said the Department of Health and Social Care is looking to establish these facilities "as quickly as possible".
Speaking ahead of the confirmation, a spokesperson for Best Western said: "Best Western hotels want to help ease lockdown in a safe and controlled way by freeing up bed space in hospitals so the sick can get seen, and controlling the spread of the virus with quarantine hotels. We have spent six months doing this safely already, we have the protocols, procedures and partners in place to roll both out now in a twin approach to support the government and NHS. We will work with the authorities involved now to speed the opening of Covid isolation quarantine hotels as a priority to support the national need."
OYO Hotels, which has 250 properties across the UK, also said it was hoping "to work with the government to meet this need", while Lionel Benjamin, co-founder of AGO Hotels, said the group was "working closely with the relevant authorities" and "committed to supporting this initiative in an effective and careful way".
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: "It's just as important, in the long term, that when travel resumes, the UK continues to have a strong reputation internationally as a safe destination and point of arrival to avoid acting as a longer-term deterrent to international visitors.
"Hospitality has shown its willingness to help wherever it can throughout this crisis, whether that be offering venues as vaccination centres or re-routing food to key workers. Once again, we are happy to play a full part in the national effort to help address this crisis. We have the capacity to help and businesses already have plans in place to ensure their venues are safe."
Photo: Flickr - number10gov