U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed restaurants, pubs and shops will open again as England’s lockdown is eased next week, but the ban on foreign travel may remain for longer.
The earliest date for resuming non-essential international travel will be May 17 and officials warned Monday that a further delay could be required if coronavirus infections continue to surge elsewhere in the world. A decision will be taken nearer the time, they said.
“We can’t be complacent — we can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries, and we’ve seen how this story goes,” Johnson said at a press conference in London on Monday. “We still don’t know how strong the vaccine shield will be when cases begin to rise, as I’m afraid that they will.”
In England, falling hospitalization and death rates and the successful rollout of vaccines, which has seen more than 31.5 million people given at least one dose, means the country is on course to continue gradually lifting restrictions that have been in place since early January.
That means from April 12 non-essential stores will resume trading, pubs and restaurants will serve customers at patio tables again, personal services such as hairdressers will return, and outdoor attractions including zoos will reopen to visitors.
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As the government makes plans for living with the virus in the longer term, a new system of Covid passports is being developed and everyone in England is being urged to take free, rapid virus tests twice a week.
Ministers hope Covid status passports will eventually make it easier for events with live audiences to resume and to ease travel restrictions and social-distancing rules for thousands of businesses. Some pandemic measures may be needed beyond the end of the government’s current roadmap for easing lockdown, officials said.
The prime minister set out the plans alongside interim findings from four policy reviews at a press conference in London on Monday. They said:
The document confirmed Bloomberg’s earlier reports of a possible delay to the planned reopening of international travel on May 17, given the worsening pandemic situation in Europe, and a new “traffic light” system coming into force to code countries based on virus risk.
The government “hopes” summer holidays will be possible this year but is advising the public not to book “until the picture is clearer.” For now, non-essential foreign travel is illegal, officials said.
The traffic light risk ratings — coding countries red, amber or green — will take account of a nation’s vaccination program, infection rate, virus strains, and sequencing capacity.
Arrivals in the U.K. from green countries won’t need to isolate, but will have to take tests before departing and after arriving. Quarantine and isolation rules will apply to passengers entering the country from places on the red and amber lists.
Covid certification will be crucial to potentially allowing travel to resume more quickly, according to officials.
The document says it is “right” for the government to develop a way of “easily demonstrating” a person’s Covid status, even though ministers are facing a backlash from members of Parliament over the plans. Certification aims to show a person has natural immunity having tested positive for the virus, has received vaccines, or has recently tested negative.
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The status could be displayed either through a smart-phone app or a paper document to enable rules on social distancing to be relaxed to help businesses resume operations and audiences to return to events.
A pilot program for mass events will test different approaches to social-distancing rules, ventilation, test-on-entry protocols and Covid passports. Initially, the certification will only involve testing but that will evolve to include vaccine status and natural immunity.
A review of social distancing will consider when families will be allowed to hug each other again, and whether Covid passports could see distancing rules lifted.
|April 12 at earliest||
|May 17 at earliest||
|Before June 21||
|June 21 at earliest||
(Adds Johnson comment in third paragraph)