LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm on Monday that English schools will reopen on March 8 and that people will be allowed to socialize outside on March 29, the first steps in a long-awaited reopening plan after a nationwide lockdown . caused by a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.
Mr Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ aims to give an exhausted country a path back to normalcy after a disastrous period in which infections soared, hospitals overflowed with patients and death toll exceeded 100,000 dead. At the same time, Britain rolled out a remarkably successful vaccination program, injecting 17 million people with their first doses.
This step, combined with a sharp drop in new cases and hospital admissions, paved the way for Mr Johnson’s announcement. But the prime minister has repeatedly stressed that he plans to move slowly in reopening the economy, saying he wants this lockdown to be the last the nation has to endure.
Under the government’s plan, pubs, restaurants, retail stores and gymnasiums in England will remain closed for at least a month – meaning that, in practice, everyday life will not change much for millions of people.
“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step,” Mr Johnson said in remarks released by his office on Sunday evening, “and we will be cautious about this approach so as not to undo the progress we have made so far. now. . “
The specific timeline will depend on four factors: the continued success of vaccine deployment; evidence that vaccines reduce hospitalizations and deaths; no further surges in infection rates that would tax the health service; and no sudden risk of new variants of the virus.
Mr Johnson is due to present the plan to Parliament on Monday afternoon and to the nation at an evening press conference, along with data that should show how the vaccination program has affected the spread of the virus. This will end the days of speculation.
But it will likely spark a new debate on whether the government is easing restrictions quickly enough.
Pubs and restaurants should not be allowed to offer indoor service until May and participation in sporting events banned before June, some members of Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party are likely to revive their lobbying campaign to lift more measures quickly.
Mr Johnson, however, appears determined to avoid a repeat of his disorderly reopening of the economy last May after the first phase of the pandemic. The government’s message was muddled – workers were urged to return to their offices but to avoid using public transport – and some initiatives – like subsidizing restaurant meals to bolster the hospitality industry – seemed unwise in hindsight .
In November, cases were climbing again and the government reluctantly announced another lockdown. Britons suffered other mixed signals ahead of Christmas when Mr Johnson pledged to ease restrictions so families can celebrate together, only to retreat amid a new wave of infections.
In January, after a variant first detected in Kent, in south-eastern England, spread like wildfire across the country, Mr Johnson hastily imposed a crackdown even tougher nationwide, ordering people to stay home except for essential activities. Schools that had reopened after the holidays were abruptly closed again.
On Monday Mr Johnson will at least address this issue.
“Our priority has always been to get children back to school, which we know is crucial for their education as well as for their mental and physical well-being,” he said in remarks released by his office. “We will also prioritize ways for people to find their loved ones safely.”