England Covid lockdown eases: PM warns people to ‘behave responsibly’

Kelly Boad, owner of Hair and Beauty Gallery in Warwick, gives Sue Butcher a haircut as non-essential businesses reopen as coronavirus disease

Reuters

For the first time in months pub gardens, shops, hairdressers and restaurants can now reopen in England, as lockdown continues to ease.

Some businesses opened from midnight, including London’s Kentish Belle pub and the Showtime Bar in Huddersfield.

Boris Johnson warned people to continue to take steps to “suppress Covid” and urged everyone to “behave responsibly”.

Northern Ireland’s “stay-at-home” order is ending and some rules are also being relaxed in Scotland and Wales.

The PM had planned to have a celebratory pint to mark the measures easing, but that has been postponed following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday.

The rule changes in England from Monday include:

  • All shops can reopen
  • Hairdressers, beauty salons and other close-contact services can open
  • Restaurants and pubs are allowed to serve food and alcohol to customers sitting outdoors
  • Gyms, spas, zoos, theme parks, libraries and community centres can all open
  • Members of the same household can take a holiday in England in self-contained accommodation
  • Up to 15 people can attend weddings and 30 can attend funerals
  • Children can attend any indoor children’s activity
  • Care home visitors will increase to two per resident
  • Driving lessons can resume, with tests restarting on 22 April

In Northern Ireland, the remaining school year groups 8-11 will return to the classroom. The stay-at-home message is being relaxed and up to 10 people from two households can meet in a private garden.

In Scotland, virtually all pupils will return to school full time. However, not everyone is returning on Monday because differing term times mean some schools are still closed for the Easter holidays.

After a drop in Covid cases prompted the Welsh Government to bring forward some dates for reopening, all students will return to face-to-face teaching on Monday.

Non-essential shops can also reopen, close-contact services can resume, driving lessons can restart and travel in and out of Wales from the rest of the UK is allowed.

One of the businesses reopening at midnight in England was Secret Spa, which offers at-home salon and spa treatments in London, Manchester and Brighton.

Co-owner Emily Ewart-Perks said it had “been such a long time coming”, saying: “Everyone has really missed the social contact of the day-to-day job and making clients happy.”

She said they have experienced a “surge of bookings”, including “a lot of 6am haircuts”.

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Analysis box by Simon Jack, business editor

Shoppers, gym fans, domestic holiday makers, outdoor drinkers and diners, plus those in need of a haircut will share the government’s hope that today is an irreversible step towards old and cherished freedoms.

So will the business owners who will be welcoming them back.

But this significant easing of lockdown is also an important test.

Will customers want or be able to return in sufficient numbers for firms to break even and if they don’t, what will it take to make the economy work again?

Only two in five hospitality venues have any outdoor space and the rules over future inside opening are still unclear.

The government and the opposition have distanced themselves from requiring Covid certificates for day-to-day life but the government has also hinted individual businesses may require them if they wish.

Hospitality chiefs have told the BBC they fear having to choose between two different ways to lose money – half empty venues without certificates or full ones with extra staff and hassle to check Covid status.

Demand may vary by sector.

Hairdressers are booked solid, retailers are hopeful of high footfall and are welcoming longer opening hours but some holiday parks are reporting subdued bookings as many of their public amenities remain closed.

It is a test for everyone – but a welcome one for most.

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In a statement, the prime minister said the rule relaxations are “a major step forward in our roadmap to freedom”.

“I’m sure it will be a huge relief for those business owners who have been closed for so long, and for everyone else it’s a chance to get back to doing some of the things we love and have missed,” he added.

“I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly and remember ‘hands, face, space and fresh air’ to suppress Covid as we push on with our vaccination programme.”

Barrels of beer

Getty Images

The rule changes in England marks the third easing since the country’s third national lockdown began on 6 January.

There is a gap of at least five weeks between each step on the government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown, to allow the impact of changes on infection rates and hospital admissions to be assessed.

The next significant date is 17 May, when up to six people from different households could be allowed to socialise indoors.

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Will cases now rise?

By BBC health correspondent Anna Collinson

As restrictions are eased, infections are expected to rise.

The government argues that the UK is in a strong position – with almost 40 million combined first and second vaccine doses now administered.

It doesn’t view the reopening of non-essential shops and beer gardens as particularly risky – as long as people stick to the rules.

However, there are some scientists who fear today’s relaxation has come too soon and they are concerned about virus hotspots in the East Midlands and parts of Yorkshire.

There are strict criteria that must be met before moving to the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions, including the continued success of the vaccine rollout and protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed with cases.

The next stage will be the planned return of indoor mixing and foreign travel on 17 May at the earliest – and it’s these steps that are expected to pose the greater risk.

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The four conditions for easing England's lockdown measures

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More than 32 million people in the UK have now had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and of those 7.4m have had their second dose.

A record total of 475,230 second doses were administered on Saturday – along with 111,109 first doses.

Mr Johnson praised the “record-breaking day” on Twitter, writing: “Thanks to everyone involved in this extraordinary effort which has already saved thousands of lives.”

The number of people dying in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test continues to fall steadily, with seven further deaths reported on Sunday.

That is the lowest daily death toll by this measure since 14 September 2020. However, there can be a lag in reporting coronavirus statistics during weekends.

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