Picnics and coffee in the park as lockdown to lift from March 8, Government confirms

Christopher HopeSat, 13 February 2021, 8:53 pm

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, visits a PPE manufacturing facility during a visit to the north east of England, in Seaton Delaval - Scott Heppell /ap
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, visits a PPE manufacturing facility during a visit to the north east of England, in Seaton Delaval – Scott Heppell /ap

Meeting a friend for a coffee on a park bench and outdoor picnics will be the first activities to get the green light on March 8, The Telegraph can reveal, with golf and tennis following shortly after.

Boris Johnson said on Saturday he “very much hoped” also to reopen schools at the same time, although ministers are discussing a proposal that will see primaries return first with secondaries a further week or two later.

On Saturday night a senior Government source confirmed that from March 8, people in England will be allowed to drink coffee on a park bench or have a picnic with anyone from their own household, or with another person on a one-to-one basis.

Households, however, will not be allowed to mix inside or outside with anyone else. The changes are the first official confirmation that the national lockdown in England will ease on March 8.

Ministers are privately also saying they expect pubs to be allowed to reopen – with outdoor dining as minimum – as soon as the first weekend in April, so households can have Easter lunch together.

As part of a “carrot and stick” approach, ministers are also working on an Australia-style approach that will see local areas locked down if there were a massive outbreak of the virus, or an outbreak of a new strain that could affect the efficacy of vaccines.

The Prime Minister will this week meet with his Cabinet and scientific advisers to begin drawing up his roadmap out of lockdown, and will address the nation on Feb 22.

The Telegraph understands the Government successfully hit its target of offering vaccines to Britain’s 14.9 million most vulnerable adults by Saturday, a day ahead of the plans.

Mr Johnson will host a press conference at 10 Downing Street on Monday to mark the moment, but sources said he did not want any early celebration with the overwhelming majority of the country still waiting for their jabs.

One minister said: “The PM does not want any celebration, very much business as usual, I will not rest until the whole country is vaccinated.”

Mr Johnson was nevertheless bullish about releasing lockdown measures. On a visit to the North East of England, he said: “Our children’s education is the number one priority.

“Then working forwards to getting non-essential retail open as well, then in due course, when we can cautiously and prudently do so, of course we want to be opening hospitality as well.

“We don’t want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret. I’m optimistic, I won’t hide it from you, but we have to be cautious.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/uLDs0TQGnzk?enablejsapi=1&modestbranding=1&origin=http://www.telegraph.co.uk&rel=0

Clinically vulnerable people in England are being invited to book their Covid-19 jab as the vaccination programme moves into a new phase on Monday.

People aged 65 to 69 are also among more than one million people who have been invited to book their vaccine, NHS England said.

Almost 1.2 million letters were due to have landed on doorsteps by Saturday asking people to log on to the national booking service, with a further 1.2 million due to arrive this week.

Number 10 sources also confirmed recreational outside sports like golf and tennis will start to be allowed from next month, probably with just one other person. One senior source said that “outdoor sports … is quite likely to relax in March”.

Ministers are privately expecting pubs to be open for Easter Sunday lunch on April 4 although this was dismissed as speculation by 10 Downing Street.

Non-essential shops are also likely to be allowed to open sooner because they have historically not affected the virus’s reproductive rate.

One source said: “It is still being debated over the Feb 22 roadmap but the idea is to get hospitality up and running for Easter. That is the plan.”

Primary schools are planned to open on March 8 with secondary schools a week later, although there are said to be a number of options on the table.

One source said: “It will be a national reopening – none of this geographical tiering stuff.”

Any planned reopening will go alongside plans – described as “draconian” by ministers – to hit outbreaks very hard with a surge in testing, tracing and isolating anyone with the virus.

The new surge testing and local lockdowns will be based on surge testing to track the South African variant of coronavirus in Surrey last week.

Ministers want to mimic the tough lockdowns in Australia where thousands of people have been kept indoors after just a handful of cases. On Monday, the first of thousands of new arrivals into the UK will be forced ten days in airport hotels before they can be released.https://www.youtube.com/embed/1wuzgjfJ14M?enablejsapi=1&modestbranding=1&origin=http://www.telegraph.co.uk&rel=0

Council staff and approved volunteers went door-to-door in the designated areas of Woking, Egham and Thorpe to deliver the kits to those aged 18 or over.

Downing Street will be hoping that the first official confirmation that the lockdown will finally lift from March 8 will quell growing unrest among Conservative MPs who want Mr Johnson to release the lockdown restrictions more quickly.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, seen by The Telegraph, 63 Conservative MPs who are members of the Coronavirus Recovery Group, said as a “national priority” the “reopening all schools to all pupils must be achieved by March 8”.

They added that given the pace of the vaccine rollout “pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can open for Easter,” which falls on Sunday April 4.

The letter – signed by Mark Harper and Steve Baker MP, the chairman and vice chairman of the group – said: “We all have concerns about outside sport and swimming pools, gyms, personal care businesses, care home visits, hotels, events industry businesses, and allowing couples to get married.

“All restrictions remaining after March 8 should be proportionate to the ever-increasing number of people we have protected.

“The burden is on ministers to demonstrate the evidence of effectiveness and proportionality with a cost-benefit analysis for each restriction, and a roadmap for when they will be removed.”

They added: “The vaccine gives us immunity from Covid but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions.

“This should be a moment of unity – for our country and our Party – as we look ahead with confidence, hope and optimism for a much brighter future, as we reclaim our lives once and for all.”

Separately writing for The Telegraph, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP for the Cotswolds and an officer of the 1922 Committee, said that rural parts of England should not be held back from relaxed restrictions by towns and cities.

He said: “Just as we lead the world in the vaccination programme we must lead the world in the recovery. We should revert back to the tier system; it is nonsense that the unlocking sequence in rural areas should be the same as inner cities.”

He added: “The Government needs to ensure that all schools fully reopen in England by March 8 at the latest, and as cases and hospital admissions fall, we need a route map for the whole economy.

“Everyone understands that lifting regulations too quickly could mean a surge in hospital cases, but equally dangerous is if we are too cautious, the effect on people’s livelihoods and mental health could be devastating.”