Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to lay the country’s route out of lockdown.
The number of cases has been falling rapidly since restrictions were tightened at the start of January. Just under 13,500 people tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday 11 February, down from highs of more than 75,000 a month ago.
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And more than 13.5 million people have now received the first dose of the vaccine.
The Government is planning for schools to start to welcoming back pupils from 8 March, with economic and social restrictions to be relaxed later.
However, it may be some time before the country returns completely to normal, and there are fears social distancing could remain in place until at least the autumn.
When will social distancing end?
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose early modelling played a key role in the UK’s first national lockdown, said the nation is “in a better place than I might have anticipated a month ago”.
However, he warned that social distancing measures are likely to remain in place through the summer.
Prof Ferguson told Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast this week: “The lockdown has really driven down cases quite fast.
“They’re basically halving about every 17 days at the moment or so, and that means in a month’s time – the Prime Minister’s talked about potentially reopening schools, we might have some bandwidth to do that, at least primary schools.
“And if we continue to see then a continued decline without large outbreaks, then perhaps starting to relax other aspects of society the following month.”
Professor Ferguson estimated that around a third of the UK population now has some immunity to Covid-19, partly because so many people have been naturally infected and partly because of the vaccine rollout.
He acknowledged “a lot of uncertainty” around the estimates, but said that “by May time frame I think it’s realistic to be in something akin to tier two”.
That level of restrictions previously saw all schools and shops allowed to open and groups of up to six allowed to meet outdoors, but pubs were only allowed to open while serving meals and indoor mixing between households was banned.
“And maybe if there are areas with very low incidence by that time, we’d move to tier one-type measures,” he continued.
In tier one, groups were still limited to six, but people could meet indoors.
“Completely relaxing and moving back to something akin to where we were in August – we had some restrictions but much lighter – that will really depend on how we see the earlier relaxations play out.”
When will other restrictions be lifted?
The Prime Minister will lay out the route out of lockdown in the week commencing 22 February.
There has been confusion about when exactly he will make the announcement, with Government sources giving conflicting information.
On Thursday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve been clear we will publish the road map on the week of the 22nd.”
However, further doubt was cast on the timeline when Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News: “On 22 February the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House of Commons where he will set out our road map to ease lockdown.”
Restrictions will be lifted slowly, with hopes shops, gyms and hairdressers could return in April.
Pubs and restaurants may have to wait until May to open their doors again.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was crucial to ease restrictions “cautiously” and rejected the setting of deadlines.
“The virus isn’t going to be particularly interested in dates,” he told a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.
— to inews.co.uk