Country will open one careful step at a time says Boris Johnson: Schools will open March 8

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But the easing will come one step at a time to ­protect the progress the country has made in the fight against Covid. Lessons will restart in a fortnight while more outdoor socialising is expected to be allowed in time for the  Easter holidays. The Prime Minister will set four tests that must be met for lockdown to end when he unveils the blueprint in Parliament today.

He wants to make sure vaccines continue to be rolled out ­successfully, evidence shows the jabs are cutting deaths and hospitalisations, infection rates are low and new variants do not pose an increased risk.

Mr Johnson said: “I’ll be setting out a roadmap to bring us out of lockdown cautiously. Our priority has always been getting children back into school, which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing.

“We will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.

“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe.

“We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan.”

The first phase of the four-step plan will be broken into two parts, it is understood.

From March 8, all schools will be open in England along with outdoors after-school sports and activities.

One person will also be allowed to meet another outside for recreation, rather than just exercise as is currently allowed. It means two friends could meet for a coffee or picnic in a park.

From March 29, the start of the Easter holidays, more social contact will be allowed.

Outdoor gatherings of up to six people or two households will be possible.

The new rule is aimed at giving larger families more flexibility.

Grassroots sports will also be allowed while informal outdoor games will go ahead but under the rule of six.

Evidence shows the risk of transmission is significantly lower outside and the Government is keen to make changes that allow family and friends to finally meet up.

It is thought that the next stage after loosening outdoor gatherings could come after Easter when holidays may be allowed again but only for residents from the same household.

Also at that time non-essential retail stores could begin to reopen, such as high street booksellers, hairdressers and clothes shops.

By May, the Government will look at whether there can be more socialising indoors and outdoors between households.

And, in June, pubs and restaurants could finally be allowed to fully open.

A further 215 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid by yesterday, and there were another 9,834 lab-confirmed cases across the UK.

Mr Johnson chaired a meeting of the Covid S group of senior ministers yesterday to finalise the plan.

The team includes Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. It will go before the Cabinet this morning before Mr Johnson updates Parliament and then gives a 7pm Downing Street press conference to inform the public.

The PM will set out the latest data on infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as early data showing the efficacy of vaccines.

The four tests Mr Johnson has set are currently being met and because the virus spread is ­currently relatively uniform across the country, restrictions will be eased step by step across the whole of England at the same time.

Mr Hancock said the Government will watch the Covid data after each restriction is lifted “like a hawk”.

MPs will be given a vote on the regulations that will allow the ­roadmap to happen in the next few weeks.

But some senior figures have insisted that once all over-50s are vaccinated, restrictions should be lifted immediately.

Former Tory leader Lord Hague said: “I think if we are going to reach the point, perhaps in April, where everybody over the age of 50 has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and the number of cases is down to a very low level, there wouldn’t be much ­justification for keeping most of the restrictions on people.”

COMMENT by Davina Deniszczyc

The pandemic and lockdowns have had a significant impact on the nation’s physical and mental health.

Our research shows that four in 10 people think their physical health is worse, while over half say their mental health has suffered.

In January, anxiety levels were at their highest since the peak of the first lockdown, while happiness and life satisfaction levels fell. We’ve seen through our Covid rehabilitation programme that the emotional burden can be just as significant as the physical effects of the virus, with long Covid patients reporting high levels of anxiety as well as breathlessness, pain and fatigue.

As the “roadmap” out of lockdown is revealed today, the Government has a chance to get on the front foot.

Opening the right sectors at the right time can give a shot in the arm to the nation’s physical and mental health.

The fitness sector is one example of an industry that can make a huge difference.

Gyms and leisure centres can help to reduce levels of obesity and physical inactivity, protecting the NHS from being overburdened by preventable long-term health conditions, and reducing the likelihood of people developing mental health problems.

This is why I hope that gyms are prioritised for reopening, after schools.

Davina Deniszczyc is Medical Director for Nuffield Health

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