Yesterday, as expected, The Prime Minister held a press conference in Downing Street, flanked by Witless and Unbalanced, and unfolded his roadmap. As expected, it looks like it’s a map of pre-industrial Britain, with no motorways or even A roads to speak of. The journey is going to slow, terribly long and the horse and cart may break down on the way. Isabel Hardman has written an explainer for the Spectator.
Step 1: From March 8th, people will still be instructed to stay at home, but schools and colleges will reopen, along with practical higher education courses. Face coverings should be worn in all indoor environments including schools unless two metre social distancing is possible… From March 29th there will still be no indoor mixing or holidays. People will be advised to minimise travel. The rule of six – or two different households – will return for outdoor mixing.
Step 2: No earlier than April 12th and at least five weeks after Step 1. Still no household mixing indoors. All retail, outdoor attractions such as zoos, libraries and community centres, personal care premises and outdoor hospitality will reopen. Indoor leisure such as gyms will open for individual or household group use. People will be able to stay away from home within the same household, and all children’s activities and indoor parent and child groups of up to 15 parents will reopen. Wakes and wedding receptions will widen up to 15 people.
Step 3: No earlier than May 17th and at least five weeks after Step 2. Indoor entertainment and indoor sports will reopen and a 30 person limit will apply outdoors. Outdoor entertainment such as performances can start along with some large events with capacity limits. The rule of six will now apply to indoor mixing. People will be able to travel overseas.
Step 4: No earlier than June 21st and at least five weeks after Step 3. Legal limits on social contact will lift and larger events allowed. Nightclubs will reopen
Hard not to be disappointed, given that Boris promised last year that it would all be over by Christmas. Does he now intend to under-promise, and over-deliver? One can but hope. At least Zero Covid appears to have been ditched, as Hardman points out.
The roadmap also covers what life with Covid as an endemic disease might look like. Ministers are opening four programmes of work to inform their policy on what ‘living with the virus’ will involve. These cover Covid status certification (the vaccine passport), large events, international travel and social distancing.
Worth reading in full.
Turning to the roadmap itself, it’s a long document, but here with a few ‘highlights’.
65. It is not currently known for how long people who receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be protected. This is because, as is the case with many vaccines, the protection they confer may weaken over time. It is also possible that new variants of the virus may emerge against which current vaccines are less effective. As well as working closely with manufacturers, Government scientists are seeking to better understand the impact of some Variants of Concern on the vaccines currently in deployment.
66. To ensure the country is prepared for these scenarios and while further evidence is gathered, the Government is planning for a revaccination campaign, which is likely to run later this year in autumn or winter. Any revaccination is likely to consist of a single ‘booster’ dose of a COVID-19 vaccine: the ideal booster may be a new vaccine specifically designed against a variant form of the virus. Over the longer term, revaccination is likely to become a regular part of managing COVID-19.
Moving on to the most politically sensitive bit:
Covid Status Certification
131: The Government will review whether COVID-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety. This will include assessing to what extent certification would be effective in reducing risk, and the potential uses to enable access to settings or a relaxation of COVID-Secure mitigations. The Government will also consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of this approach and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification. It will draw on external advice to develop recommendations that take into account any social and economic impacts, and implications for disproportionately impacted groups and individuals’ privacy and security. The Government will set out its conclusions in advance of Step 4 in order to inform the safe reopening of society and the economy.
What about football and travel?
133) Over the spring the Government will run a scientific Events Research Programme. This will include a series of pilots using enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes. The pilots will start in April.
134) The Government will bring the findings from across different sectors and different settings to determine a consistent approach to lifting restrictions on these events. Depending on the outcome of this work, the Government hopes to be able to lift restrictions on these events and sectors as part of Step 4.
135) The Government’s objective is to see a safe and sustainable return to international travel, for business and pleasure. When it is safe to do so the UK will again be the destination of choice for international visitors from around the world. In the short-term, the Government will continue to protect the vaccine rollout and mitigate against the risk posed by imported variants.
136) Vaccinations could offer a route to that safe and sustainable return. Once more is known about the evidence of vaccines on transmission and their efficacy against new variants, the Government can look to introduce a system to allow vaccinated individuals to travel more freely internationally.
137) The UK is working with other countries who have started similar programmes, to lead global efforts to adopt a clear international framework with standards that provide consistency for passengers and industry alike. The Government will make this a reality through ongoing work with the World Health Organisation and other multilateral organisations, the UK’s presidency of the G7 this year, and by working with other international partners.
138) However, any such system will take time to implement. It will be heavily dependent on improved scientific understanding about the role vaccination plays in reducing transmission. Introducing such a system also needs to be fair and not unduly disadvantage people who have yet to be offered – or gain access to – a vaccine. That being the case, the Government does not expect this solution to be available quickly, and restrictions like those in place across the world are likely to continue for the near future.
When can we ditch the masks and the stupid one-way systems in shops?
145) Social distancing is difficult and damaging for businesses and, as a result, it is important to return to as near to normal as quickly as possible. Ahead of Step 4, as more is understood about the impact of vaccines on transmission and a far greater proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission. The results of the review will help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on 1m+, face masks and other measures may be lifted. The review will also inform guidance on working from home – people should continue to work from home where they can until this review is complete.
And finally, under the section marked long term:
Living with the virus
196) Like some strains of flu, COVID-19 is a relatively mild illness for much of the population, but it is more dangerous to vulnerable groups. The Government will ensure the country can live with the virus in the longer-term without imposing restrictions which bear heavy economic, social and health costs. The outcome of the four programmes of work set out in chapter 3 (large events, COVID-Certification, international travel and social distancing) will inform Government policy on living with the virus.
197) In addition to a comprehensive revaccination programme, set out in chapter 2, the Government will also use the Test, Trace and Isolate system to keep the virus in check. This includes regular asymptomatic testing in sectors with the highest risk of transmission, as well as testing in the workplace to help protect employees from infection and keep businesses open. The UK has already stepped up domestic production of lateral flow tests. As set out in chapter 2, the Government is also investing in bolstering domestic vaccine production capacity across the whole of the UK.
Worth reading in full – although, God knows, I cannot imagine more than about three people will.
Stop Press: The Telegraph reports that proposals for a major easing of lockdown before Easter were dropped after scientists warned the Government that it could lead to an extra 55,000 deaths. Thank you, SAGE.
Stop Press 2: Again in the Telegraph, Ross Clark notes the irony that we may be the first country to vaccinate its population but the last to reopen.
Stop Press 3: Watch Boris unveil his plan in the House of Commons yesterday.