COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021

The government has published the ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021’ document, setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England.

From 8 March, people in England will see restrictions start to lift and the government’s four-step roadmap offer a route back to a more normal life. The document stresses that absolute case numbers remain relatively high, however with the success of the vaccination programme and the public’s response to the challenge of suppressing COVID-19 (by obeying the law; staying at home; getting tested when needed; isolating when required, and following the ‘hands, face, space’ and ‘letting fresh air in’ guidance), the government can begin to relax the current strict lockdown.

While everyone is encouraged to remain vigilant – in particular against the threat from new COVID-19 variants – and continue to protect the NHS, a safe exit from lockdown can begin. It will take place in four steps; and at each step, the government plan to lift restrictions across the whole of England at the same time.

It is stressed that decisions will be based on data – not dates – so that there is not a risk of a surge in infections that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. For that reason, all the dates in the roadmap are indicative and subject to change, it says. There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step: four weeks for the scientific data to reflect the changes in restrictions and to be analysed; followed by one week’s advance notice of the restrictions that will be eased.

Four tests

When the government is sure that it is safe to move from one step to the next, then a final decision be made. The decision will be based on four tests:

  1. The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
  2. Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
  3. Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
  4. The government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.

Any local outbreaks will be managed quickly and effectively, says the document.

The four steps

Step 1

All children and students will return to face-to-face education in schools and colleges from 8 March. Childcare and children’s supervised activities can also resume where necessary to enable parents to work or engage in similar activities. There will be twice-weekly rapid testing for secondary and college pupils – in addition to regular testing for all teachers – to reduce the chance of the virus spreading in schools. Higher Education students at English universities on practical courses can also return from 8 March.

The ‘stay at home’ rule will end on 29 March, but many restrictions will remain in place. People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible, avoiding travel at the busiest times and routes.

Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts will reopen and organised adult and children’s sport, such as grassroots football, will also return.

Recreation in an outdoor public space – such as a park – will be allowed between two people, meaning they would be allowed to sit down for a coffee, drink or picnic.

Step 2

From 12 April, the following will be permitted to open:

Non-essential retail opens, hairdressers and public buildings like libraries and museums outdoor settings like alcohol takeaways, beer gardens, zoos and theme parks
indoor leisure facilities such as gyms (but only for use by people on their own or in household groups), self-contained holiday accommodation, such as self-catering lets and camp sites.

Hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors at Step 2 and there will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks and no curfew, although customers must order, eat and drink while seated (‘table service’).

Wider social contact rules will continue to apply in all settings – meaning no indoor mixing between different households will be allowed.

Funerals continue with up to 30 people, and weddings with up to 15 guests.

Step 3

The government will look to continue easing limits on seeing friends and family wherever possible, allowing people to decide on the appropriate level of risk for their circumstances.

This means that most legal restrictions on meeting others outdoors will be lifted – although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal. Indoors, the Rule of 6 or 2 households will apply – the government will keep under review whether it is safe to increase this.

As soon as possible and by no later than Step 3, the government will also update the advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging. But until this point, people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble.

Most businesses in all but the highest risk sectors will be able to reopen, says the document. In all sectors, COVID-Secure guidance will remain in place and businesses may not cater for groups bigger than the legal limits.

Step 4

From 21 June, potentially all legal limits on social contact will be removed, with the final closed sectors of the economy reopened – such as nightclubs.

It is hoped to lift restrictions on large events and performances; and to remove all limits on weddings and other “life events.”

Download the full roadmap document

Cabinet Office – 22 February 2021

How we can help

Wiser Safety can undertake a COVID Risk Assessment at your premises and we have a range of documents that will help your organisation to become Covid Secure.

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