Explained - what are the 5 key dates in lockdown exit plan?
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
A vision to coming out of long, hard winter months in lockdown has been unveiled - but what are the key dates when things will change?
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said coronavirus restrictions in England will be lifted cautiously, so as not to risk infection rates rising and the need for further curbs on freedom.
However, he also said it is important the changes are "irreversible", because of the toll shutting down society is having on the economy and people's mental wellbeing.
Mr Johnson believes the speedy roll-out of the Covid vaccine, which is reducing hospitalisations and deaths from the virus, enables the gradual lifting of restrictions. All adults are set to be offered the jab by July.
The prime minister unveiled five key dates when changes will be made to the current rules, although he stressed these are subject to infection rates remaining low across the country.
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This is the first date when some of the current lockdown restrictions will be lifted.
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The "stay at home" requirement will remain in place - but exercise and recreation with one other person outdoors will be allowed, allowing two people to meet in a park.
Perhaps the biggest change on March 8 will be the reopening of schools and colleges to all pupils.
Suffolk headteachers have welcomed that announcement of pupils' return, with Chantry Academy principal Craig D'Cunha saying the classroom "is the best place for them socially, academically and for health and wellbeing".
However Jack Abbott, education spokesman for Suffolk County Council's opposition Labour group, said: "I have concerns about the 'big bang' approach the government is taking towards the full reopening of schools."
Whether the reopening of schools pushes up virus infections could impact future dates for lifting restrictions.
The "stay at home" requirement officially ends on March 29, although people are encouraged to stay local so as to stop the virus spreading across different parts of the country.
Indoor mixing is still not allowed, but the "rule of six" will be reintroduced outdoors to allow people to meet for a picnic in a park.
This should allow families the chance to see each other in person at long last, after a long winter apart.
Outdoor sport and leisure facilities can also reopen, along with children's and adults sports activities.
This will perhaps be one the most significant dates in the reopening of society after lockdown, as non-essential shops and personal care services - such as hairdressers - will finally be allowed to reopen.
Gyms can also reopen for individual exercise, along with libraries, community centres and most outdoor attractions like zoos.
Overnight stays in other parts of the country will also be allowed, although people cannot stay with others and must stick to staying only with people in their households.
This is set to be the first date two households can mix indoors, with the "rule of six" applying. Domestic overnight stays will also be allowed.
There will be even greater freedom to see each other outdoors, where a maximum of 30 people will be allowed to meet.
Indoor entertainment and attractions can also open, along with organised indoor sport and any remaining accommodation not already open under previous steps.
Indoor events of up to 1,000 people will also be allowed, along with outdoor events of up to 4,000 people and outdoor seated events of up to 10,000 people - all with social distancing, of course.
It is also the first date international travel could be allowed, subject to a review.
This is the date on which all previous restrictions are due to be lifted.
There will be no limit on social contact, with all remaining businesses - including nightclubs - set to reopen.
However, the government's 68-page lockdown roadmap document says: "Even as restrictions are lifted, it is essential that everyone carries on with the good habits that reduce transmission: remembering ‘hands, face, space’ and letting fresh air in, getting a test on the first sign of symptoms and self-isolating if it is positive."