Yesterday Boris Johnson confirmed that England will progress with the further easing of lockdown restrictions on Monday 17th May, also known as ‘Step 3.’ This means that we have met the ‘4 Tests,’ which are:
- The vaccine programme continuing successfully.
- Vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths.
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations or pressure on the NHS.
- The situation of the pandemic is not changed by new variants of concern.
In other positive news, the UK’s Covid alert level has been moved down to 3. This signifies that there is no longer a rising level of transmission, and Covid-19 is simply in general circulation across the country rather than the epidemic ‘rising exponentially.’ Remember way back when, the January lockdown which saw record cases and tragically record deaths, the alert level was 5 – the highest level – meaning that there was a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed. Clearly, and thankfully, we are in a much better position now than we were then, and we can finally start to make more concrete plans for the future in terms of visiting family and friends once again, which brings us to the different elements of lockdown easing from next Monday:
- The guidance will change on people being allowed to hug and embrace their loved ones for the first time since March 2020 – this is a new element of the easing of restrictions added recently.
- Indoor hospitality, i.e. pubs, bars, and restaurants will be allowed to re-open without a curfew.
- Indoor entertainment venues, such as museums, theatres, and children’s play areas will re-open.
- Domestic holidays will be allowed, and this includes the reopening of hotels, hostels and B&B’s.
- Funerals will go from having a maximum of 30 people to no longer having a limit for the number of mourners allowed to attend. This comes after the heart-breaking images of The Queen being seated alone at her husband Prince Philip’s funeral, with her family being unable to console her at such a difficult time – the reality being unfortunately relatable to many families across the country who have had to mourn the loss of a loved one in pandemic times.
- 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. There will also be 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.
- 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!
- International travel will also partially resume, with the Government last week releasing a list of 12 countries on the ‘Green List for travel, where travellers do not have to quarantine upon arrival into the UK, however, they will need to have proof of a negative Covid test. The countries currently on the green list are Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Gibraltar, Brunei, Falkland Islands, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Portugal, Singapore, South Georgia, and St. Helena.
- Finally, and an easing of restrictions that will directly affect us at the IGS is that the Government will no longer recommend that face coverings are worn in classrooms from next Monday. I know that this will come as a feeling of relief for most of you as not wearing a mask will enable the classroom experience to feel a lot more normal! Additionally, it was also announced that from May 17th, school trips, including overnight stays domestically, will be permitted!
Now, this easing of restrictions matters. Not only because of how cautious we all still need to be but because we have been in some form of restrictions since the 4th quarter of 2020. The pandemic is still raging across the world though, as has been depicted through the heart-breaking scenes in India, which is why if you watched the Prime Minister’s briefing yesterday, you will have noticed why he wasn’t as optimistic and smiley as one would expect him to be. Yes, we are entering new territory, but the super-charge rollout of the vaccine with millions inoculated over the past few months means that we have some leeway, and a greater head-start than other countries in starting to return to some form of normality and having certainty that we are at the end of this tiring and gruesome pandemic.