When will lockdown end and how will Covid rules change?
- Credit: PA
While coronavirus cases continue to fall across the region amid the vaccination drive, when and how we will emerge from lockdown remains unclear.
Restrictions could begin to be softened as early as next month with life returning to normal by the summer, according to some leading scientists. Others have warned rates are still too high to ease measures.
Boris Johnson has warned it is “still early days” and urged the public to continue following lockdown rules.
Downing Street has said ministers "will look at the data in the round" when it comes to decisions on easing restrictions.
So what could be the roadmap out of lockdown?
When is the next lockdown review?
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Lockdown restrictions were introduced for an initial period of six weeks. When introduced it was announced that they would be reviewed during the week commencing February 15.
The government hopes it will have a clearer idea of the effectiveness of lockdown restrictions by this date.
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It is also hoped that by this stage the 15 million most vulnerable people in the country - all over-70s, care home residents and staff, health workers and people shielding - will have been offered a first vaccine.
When will the lockdown exit strategy be revealed?
A lockdown exit roadmap is to be published in the week commencing February 22.
Early this month Boris Johnson said: “We will be setting out in as much detail as we can about where we see the dates, what the timetable could be, the earliest dates by which we want to do what - you remember what we did last year - setting out a route map, we’ll do that again.”
The current lockdown legislation expires on March 31. This means that if lockdown isn't eased by this point, then further legislation will be needed to keep restrictions in place.
How much will lockdown measures ease?
Downing Street said ministers “will look at the data in the round” when it comes to decisions on easing restrictions.
It is thought that an exit out of lockdown will be phased rather than an immediate lifting of all restrictions.
One idea reportedly being considered could be a three-month lockdown "halfway house" after Easter, with a full reopening being delayed until those over 50 have received their second dose of the vaccine, with a phased reopening of society in the spring.
Is the risk low enough to ease restrictions?
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, said the decline in positive cases gave him cause for optimism that people would be able to meet up with friends and family in March.
He said: “Personally I believe we should be able to start doing that probably not long after schools reopen – if I had to bet on a time, I’d say some time in March certainly.”
Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, told the BBC: “Once the most vulnerable people, particularly those over 50 and those with chronic illnesses, are vaccinated then yes I think we can see a significant return to normality.
“That in addition to the fact coronavirus is a seasonal disease, I think will make a big difference and allow us to open up.”
Do others have doubts about lifting restrictions too soon?
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, told the Downing Street briefing this week it will be "crucial" to establish the trajectory of the Covid-19 outbreak and to "not jump ahead of it" as cases could rise again quickly.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and also a member of the Sage advisory body, said it is "not sensible" to draw up a road map out of lockdown before local transmission is under control
He has suggested coronavirus cases need to fall below 10,000 a day before Boris Johnson should consider easing lockdown measures.
He added: "I appreciate that businesses have to plan and everything else, but the data has to drive us, and in 2020 we lifted restrictions too quickly when the date would not really have allowed that and, frankly, as a result the transmission went back up in this country."
What would a phased reopening mean for Norfolk?
Reports suggest it is unlikely we will see a return to tiers or to a more regionalised set of restrictions suggested by some as a way to reflect higher infection rates in places like Norwich over more rural locations.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said a national set of restrictions was “probably quite a sensible move”.
He said: “I was always very keen to keep Norfolk as a whole area geographically because I think it is very difficult for people to understand specific very small areas.”
He said national restrictions should be balanced with more powers to local authorities to deal with local outbreaks.
“Our local authorities have been very good when we have seen spikes in Wymondham or Great Yarmouth. They have dealt with those very effectively and I think that is the way to go,” he added.
The government has already extended lockdown laws, giving local councils the power to close pubs, restaurants, shops and public spaces, until July 17.
When will schools reopen?
Under the current plans, children will return to the classroom on March 8.
Professor Hunter said the rate of the fall in Covid-19 cases made him optimistic that pupils could be back in classrooms then.
He said: “I think there could well be a case for opening schools – I particularly think schools for children under 11 years of age, where the evidence that they contribute to the spread of the epidemic in the wider population is a lot lower.”
What about shops, pubs and hospitality venues?
It has been reported that the government is considering allowing pubs and restaurants to reopen after Easter in April with restrictions, though suggestions of a temporary 'booze ban' has been dismissed.
Restrictions such as the 10pm curfew and 'substantial meal' requirement will also be scrapped as part of a "simplification" of rules to ease confusion.
Dawn Hopkins, vice chairwoman of the Campaign for Pubs, and a landlady at The Rose in Norwich, said: "We need a plan of action. If we have to stay closed until May, but with less restrictions, that would be better than letting us open in March but in tiers which were so hard to operate."
The Times also reported that non-essential shops were being pencilled in for reopening in April by Downing Street. Currently, only essential shops such as supermarkets and chemists are allowed to be open.
Could holidaymakers travelling to Norfolk cause a new spike in cases?
Lifting lockdown but keeping overseas travel restrictions could lead to a spring and summer UK holiday boom that would be welcomed by tourism businesses but risks pushing infection rates back up.
MP Duncan Baker said north Norfolk would inevitably become a “picturesque hot spot” that would be a magnet for tourists.
“I will continue to call for making sure we have a visible police presence so whatever rules come forward they can be followed properly to continue to keep our infection rates under control,” he said.
“We kept the virus largely out of north Norfolk and I think when we come out of this pandemic it needs to be an easing out of it, sensibly and proportionately at the right time.”
How long could social distancing last?
The ending of lockdown will not see the end of social distancing.
Professor Hunter said that even though he felt lockdown could be eased next month, some form of social distancing may need to continue even with effective vaccines.
“The key issue is what we do about vulnerable people who have declined a vaccine or who are unable to have the vaccine?
“I suspect we will have to continue with some degree of social distancing until at least spring 2022, if only to protect vulnerable individuals from severe disease who have declined immunisation.”