Pubs and restaurants in England will be able to start reopening outdoor areas from mid-April, but indoor spaces including hotels will have to remain closed until May, the prime minister announced today in the government's roadmap to reopening.
On reopening, businesses will no longer be restricted to serving alcohol with a substantial meal and last year's 10pm curfew has also been scrapped. However, businesses will only have one week's notice of confirmation for reopening, and nightclubs will be some of the last businesses to reopen, from 21 June at the earliest.
Johnson said there was "no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain" and that "we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions" before setting out a roadmap that he described as cautious but also hopefully irreversible and a "one-way road to freedom".
Instead of the prior tier system, restrictions will be eased in all areas of England at the same time. Although target dates have been provided for reopening, Johnson said there would be at least five weeks between each step to ensure the data reflects the impact of the prior step, and government decisions would be "led by data, not dates".
Each step being able to proceed will be based on four tests: the vaccine deployment programme continuing successfully, vaccines being sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated, infection rates not risking a surge in hospitalisations, and the emergence of new variants.
The government will also undertake four reviews: the first to assess social distancing restrictions; a second successor to the global travel taskforce will report on the viability of international travel by 12 April; a third will consider Covid status certification; and a fourth will look at the return of major events.
With regards to continued support for businesses, the prime minister said that "we will not pull the rug out. For the duration of the pandemic the government will do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods" and pointed to the chancellor's Budget next week for further details.
The steps are as follows:
Step one 8 March: The top four vaccination priority groups will have had their first dose. Pupils in schools and further education settings can return to face-to-face teaching. Some university students will return. People will be able to meet one person from outside their household for outdoor recreation, such as a picnic or a coffee, in addition to exercise.
29 March: People will be able to meet outdoors in groups of six, or two households. Outdoor sports facilities will reopen. It will no longer be a legal requirement to stay at home but people should continue to work from home where they can and minimise travel.
Step two Non-essential retail will reopen no earlier than 12 April, as will personal care services, including hairdressers. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms can reopen. Pubs and restaurants can open outdoors with no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal but customers must order, eat and drink while seated. Zoos and theme parks can also reopen. Self-contained accommodation, such as holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, can also reopen. Funerals can continue with up to 30 people, and the numbers able to attend weddings, receptions and commemorative events such as wakes will rise to 15 (from six).
Step three Pubs and restaurants can reopen indoor spaces, and hotels, theatres and sports stadia will also reopen no earlier than 17 May. Restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted but to a maximum limit of 30, and up to six people or two households will be able to meet indoors. Larger events will be piloted using enhanced testing with the ambition of further easing of restrictions.
Step four From 21 June the government aims to remove all legal limits on social contact including on weddings and events, and everything up to and including nightclubs will reopen.
Johnson said: "I sympathise very much with the exhaustion and the stress that people are experiencing and that businesses are experiencing after so long in lockdown. But to them all I say: today the end really is in sight."
He said the government could not rule out reimposing regional or local restrictions should a new variant emerge that is not covered by the vaccine.