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Lockdown-weary Brits may at last see the light at the end of the tunnel as the government is reportedly setting out plans to ease restrictions at the beginning of March.
The Cabinet has outlined a "three-point" plan that needs to be fulfilled to lift the lockdown, The Sunday Times reports.
Death rates need to be seen to be dropping, the number of hospital admissions must be lower, and a significant percentage of residents in the 50-70 age range must have been vaccinated.
And, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing the closure of all travel corridors this week, the paper reports ministers are considering an even tougher crackdown at the borders.
Officials are said to have been told to prepare for the creation of quarantine hotels for those arriving in Britain and to use GPS and facial-recognition technology to check that people are staying in isolation.
It comes as Johnson, in his most optimistic address for some months, said that the current lockdown measures were already bringing the number of new infections down rapidly.
Combined with the the vaccine roll-out, which he says is is set to have the most vulnerable groups protected by the end of next month, there is scope to allow a gradual easing of restrictions.
Despite the optimistic outlook Mr Johnson warned that easing the lockdown was dependent on other factors, saying that allowing ourselves to “let go too soon” ran the risk of letting the disease run “rampant” in younger age groups who might then still end up in hospital.
“There’s clearly a debate to be had and we’ll make sure that everybody has a chance to have their say in that debate,” Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference.
“Depending on the effectiveness of the [vaccine] roll-out . . . we will think about what steps we could take to lift the restrictions. It will also depend on where the disease is because what we can’t have is any false sense of security, so that we lift the restrictions altogether and then the disease really runs riot in the younger generations.”
Sounding a note of caution, he said that the virus could still affect younger people very badly, and there was a risk of large numbers of people being left with severe illness of we “let go too soon.”
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK is "nearly on the home straight" as 324,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines were administered in the space of 24 hours.
Mr Hancock, writing in the Sunday Express, said: "We can see the way out of this pandemic. We are nearly on the home straight.”
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has said that the NHS is still under “extraordinary” pressure, but the peak of infections appears to have passed.
He predicted that the number of people being admitted to hospital could begin falling in the next seven to ten days.
“If we look forward over the next few weeks the effects of everyone’s actions in helping to reduce transmission will begin to reduce the pressure on the NHS and reduce the number of deaths,” he said.
- Boris Johnson
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