Four Step Roadmap to Ending Coronavirus Lockdown in England
In a statement to Parliament, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, outlined a detailed, Four Step Roadmap to ending England's Covid lockdown. Each step would be conditional on certain tests being met, with a 5 week interval between each step to evaluate evidence and adjust accordingly.
While there is little direct impact on construction-related activity, apart from the overall easing of travel and economic restrictions, the more direct impact will be a timetable for holding all events.
To accompany the PM's announcement, the Cabinet Office published a comprehensive Plan for easing and eventually ending lockdown. Of note is the planned updating of Covid-Secure guidance to take account of ventilation and testing, but also further scientific research and pilots for major events, including weddings. There is much detail and members are urged to read the Plan in full, but these extracts (with our emphasis) draw out many of the aspects likely to be of most interest to HAE EHA members.
The Plan outlined below applies only to England, each of the UK Nations will set out a separate approach to ending lockdown.
The Government aims for everyone who is 50 and over, or at risk, to have been offered a first dose of the vaccine by 15th April, and for everyone aged 18 and over to have been offered a first dose by 31st July.
Even when vaccinated, there is still a chance people can contract the virus and pass it on. No vaccine is 100% effective and, like all viruses, COVID-19 can mutate. As a result, as lockdown is lifted, there will sadly be more cases, hospitalisations and deaths. The Government will take a cautious approach to easing lockdown, guided by the data in order to avoid a surge in infections that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
Due to the relatively uniform spread of the virus across the country, the Government plans to ease restrictions at the same time across the whole of England.
The roadmap outlines four steps for easing restrictions; before proceeding to the next step, the Government will examine the data to assess the impact of the previous step. This assessment will be based on four tests:
- The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
- the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.
It takes around four weeks for the data to reflect the impact of the previous step and the Government will provide a further week's notice to individuals and businesses before making changes. The roadmap therefore sets out indicative, "no earlier than" dates for the steps which are five weeks apart. These dates are wholly contingent on the data and are subject to change if the four tests are not met.
The Test, Trace and Isolate system will continue to support the easing of social and economic restrictions. It will also be important in identifying local outbreaks and Variants of Concern. Where a dangerous Variant of Concern is identified and is likely to pose a real risk to the vaccination programme or public health, the Government will take a highly precautionary approach, acting fast to address outbreaks.
As restrictions ease and the economy is gradually and safely reopened, the Government will carefully tailor the level of support to individuals and businesses to reflect the changing circumstances. The 3rd of March Budget will set out further detail on economic support.
Over time, scientists expect COVID-19 to become endemic, meaning the virus will reach a stable, and hopefully manageable level. Vaccinations, including revaccination, will be key to managing the transition from pandemic to endemic state.
Businesses, workers and their suppliers are suffering from enforced closures and restrictions on social contact, particularly aviation, pubs, restaurants and hotels, sports and events, arts, entertainment and conferences, and so are their suppliers. Even though the Government has provided over £280 billion in financial support since March 2020, jobs have inevitably been lost given the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic. The number of employees on payroll fell by 828,000 between February and December 2020.
The pain has not been felt equally. Staff in the hardest-hit sectors, such as hospitality, are more likely to be young, female, from an ethnic minority, and lower paid. The unemployment rate for those aged 18 to 24 increased from 10.5% in the three months to February 2020 to 13.2% in the three months to November 2020. The unemployment rate for ethnic minorities has increased from 5.8% in the three months to December 2019 to 8.5% in the three months to September 2020.
Key Government objectives:
- To restore freedoms sustainably, equitably and as quickly as possible without putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS, and avoiding a further lockdown
- To deploy the vaccine as quickly as possible to maximise protections as restrictions are eased
- To protect the public and the NHS by having effective long-term contingency plans
- To plan and deliver a national recovery
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. 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.
On the basis of the Government's assessment of the current data against the four tests, Step 1 can proceed. Step 1 will start with schools on 8th March, and include some further limited changes on 29th March to allow families to meet outdoors as most schools break up for the Easter holidays. As before, people can leave home for work if they cannot work from home and to escape illness, injury or risk of harm, including domestic abuse.
Weddings will still be able to proceed with 6 attendees only but will no longer be limited to exceptional circumstances.
As a result of these changes, people will no longer be legally required to Stay at Home. Many of the lockdown restrictions, however, will remain in place. Unless an exemption already applies, it will not be possible to meet people from other households indoors and many business premises will remain shut. Guidance will set out that people should continue to work from home where they can. People should continue to minimise travel wherever possible, and should not be staying away from home overnight at this stage.
This will take place no earlier than 12th April, subject to an assessment of the data against the four tests. If Step 2 is delayed, subsequent steps will need to be pushed back in order to maintain the necessary five week period to assess the impact of each step and provide notice. This step will reopen some sections of our indoor economy and more outdoor settings, restoring jobs and livelihoods and enabling people to access some of the activities and services which are most important to them.
Additional premises will be able to reopen but should only be visited alone or with household groups. Hospitality venues will be able to open for outdoor service, with no requirement for a substantial meal to be served alongside alcoholic drinks, and no curfew. The requirement to order, eat and drink while seated ('table service') will remain.The majority of outdoor settings and attractions can also reopen, including outdoor hospitality, zoos, theme parks, drive-in cinemas and drive-in performances events. The rules on social contact outdoors will apply in these settings. At this point, weddings, receptions, and commemorative events including wakes will be able to take place with up to 15 attendees (in premises that are permitted to open).
Step 3 will take place no earlier than 17th May, and at least five weeks after Step 2, following a further review of the data and the four tests. Again, the Government will announce one week in advance whether restrictions will be eased as planned. In Step 3, all but the most high-risk sectors will be able to reopen. In all sectors, COVID-Secure guidance will remain in place and premises must not cater for groups larger than the legal limits.
Some large events, including conferences, theatre and concert performances and sports events. Controlled indoor events of up to 1,000 people or 50% of a venue's capacity, whichever is lower, will be permitted, as will outdoor events with a capacity of either 50% or 4,000 people, whichever is lower. The Government will also make a special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25% of total seated capacity, whichever is lower. In addition, pilots will run as part of the Events Research Programme to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing using other mitigations such as testing. At this step, weddings, receptions, funerals, and commemorative events including wakes can proceed with up to 30 attendees. A broader range of stand-alone life events will also be permitted at this step, including bar mitzvahs and christenings.
The Government will lift most legal restrictions on meeting others outdoors, but gatherings of more than 30 people outdoors will remain illegal. Indoors, people will be able to meet socially in a group of 6, or with 1 other household, though it may be possible to go further than this at Step 3 depending on the data. The Government will determine when international travel should resume, which will be no earlier than 17th May.
By Step 4, the Government aims to:
- Remove all legal limits on social contact, publishing accompanying guidance on how best to reduce the risk of transmission and protect ourselves and loved ones;
- Reopen the remaining closed settings, including nightclubs and enable large events, including theatre performances, above the Step 3 capacity restrictions, subject to the outcome of the scientific Events Research Programme and potentially using testing to reduce the risk of infection, subject to further evaluation; and
- Remove all limits on weddings and other live events, subject to the outcome of the scientific Events Research Programme.
As set out above, some measures may be required even after all adults have been offered a vaccine, because neither coverage nor effectiveness of the vaccine will be 100%. As a result, a significant proportion of the population will remain vulnerable to infection, some of whom will also be vulnerable to severe disease and death. This is reflected in the modelling of different scenarios for unlocking restrictions, which shows that the risk of further cases, hospitalisations and deaths remains after the adult population has been vaccinated, though modellers advise there is considerable uncertainty in these figures. The Government is therefore establishing four programmes of work to consider different aspects of how the UK should handle COVID-19 from summer onwards.
- The Government will review whether COVID-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety
- DCMS and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been working with representatives from industry and civil society to explore when and how events with larger crowd sizes, less social distancing or in settings where transmission is more likely (i.e. indoors), will be able to return safely. This includes sports events, music festivals and large weddings and conferences. 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. 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
- The Government is keen to find ways to work closely with the industry to ease restrictions on international travel. The Global Travel Taskforce will report on 12th April to the Prime Minister and work with UK representatives of the travel sector.
- The Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission
Businesses must also continue to take necessary precautions as restrictions ease. The overwhelming majority of the businesses that remained open during the pandemic did so in a COVID-Secure way. The Government will update COVID-Secure guidance to provide further advice on how businesses can improve fresh air flow in indoor workplaces and introduce regular testing to reduce risk. Local authorities will also continue to offer advice. The police and local authorities are able to take action against people who break the law and apply sanctions, for those businesses that are not operating safely.
In January, the Government offered regular asymptomatic testing for people who have to leave home for work, to reduce risk to individuals and keep businesses open. A major effort across the private and public sector has already resulted in interest from over 12,000 UK organisations, with over three million tests distributed to employers. The Government's offer of free test kits to workplaces for staff who cannot work at home will be extended to until the end of June. Organisations, including those yet to open, will need to register interest before 31st March. The Government will keep this under review as vaccine deployment continues and will investigate how testing could be used to support the recovery.
A new Community Collect model will be launching so that families, small businesses and the self-employed, who have found it harder to access regular testing, can take away rapid tests from some Government and local authority sites. People will also soon be able to have rapid lateral flow tests delivered straight to their home allowing them to carry out tests when it is most convenient. This will provide ready access to rapid lateral flow tests for those who require access to regular testing.