With Covid infection rates plunging, the Prime Minister has given the go-ahead to hundreds of thousands of shops and other businesses to reopen next week. Mr Johnson said he was sticking with his roadmap out of lockdown in England because the vaccination programme and other measures were “paying off”. And he joked: “I will be going to the pub myself – and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips.”
Data on the retreat of the virus means the reopening of nonessential shops, hairdressers, gyms and pub gardens from Monday is “fully justified”, he said.
But Mr Johnson warned Britons not to be “complacent” about the disease in the face of surging outbreaks in Europe.
He also confirmed that ministers are studying plans for a Covid status certification scheme that could speed up the widespread return of mass spectator sports, theatres, cinemas, festivals and other large events.
Insisting there was “absolutely no question” of customers having to show Covid passports to be allowed into pubs, Mr Johnson said the move to “stage two” of his roadmap out of lockdown in England next week was “fully justified by the data”.
Figures yesterday showed the daily Covid death toll was down to 26. A total of 2,762 new infections were also confirmed yesterday.
The Prime Minister said: “I want to thank you all again for your patience, because it is really clear now that this is paying off.
“And it your collective efforts, our collective efforts, that have given us that crucial time and space to vaccinate more than 31 million people.
“We set out our roadmap and we’re sticking to it. And I want to stress that we see nothing in the present data that makes us think that we will have to deviate from that roadmap.
“The net result of your efforts and the vaccine rollout is that I can today confirm that from Monday, April 12, we will move to step two of our roadmap.
“Reopening shops, gyms, zoos, holiday campsites, personal care services like hairdressers and, of course, beer gardens and outdoor hospitality of all kinds.”
But in a note of caution, he added: “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries and we’ve seen how this story goes.
“We still don’t know how strong the vaccine shield will be when cases begin to rise, as I’m afraid that they will.”
The minutes from a meeting of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling held on March 31 were released yesterday.
The notes said: “Any resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths following step two of the roadmap alone is highly unlikely to put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Mr Johnson was guarded about confirming whether international travel will be allowed to resume on schedule next month given the pandemic raging in Europe and other parts of the world.
He added: “Obviously we are hopeful that we can get going from May 17. But I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulty we are seeing in some of the destination countries people might want to go to.
“We don’t want to see the virus being reimported into this country from abroad.”
Covid passports for access to large events and some hospitality businesses such as nightclubs are still being studied and not expected to come into force for months, the PM said.
A Government review into the idea is continuing. Mr Johnson said: “On Covid status certification, as we prefer to call it, the most important thing to say to everybody listening and watching is there’s absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or to the pub garden or to their hairdressers or whatever on Monday.
“And indeed we are not planning that for stage three either. May 17, as you know, we are hoping to go for the opening up of indoor hospitality and so on.
“We are not planning for anything of that kind at that stage.”
Mr Johnson, who faces opposition from many of his backbenchers over the Covid passports plan, signalled that MPs could be given a vote on the proposal.
He added: “We are taking too many fences at once. First we need to work out what exactly the proposal might be. But certainly if there is something to put to Parliament I am certain we will do that.”
The PM admitted there were “ethical and practical issues” with vaccine passports but said some test events will be launched in the next few weeks.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s easing of lockdown restrictions continued at a faster pace than in the rest of the UK.
The Scottish First Minister was among those taking a trip to a hairdresser on their first day of opening.
CAN I GO ON A FOREIGN HOLIDAY?
No. The earliest international travel will resume is May 17 but the Government’s latest review warned it is still too early to say if that date will be met because other countries’ vaccination programmes are slower and Covid rates are still high. Boris Johnson said he is hopeful it can restart next month – but the advice is do not book yet.
WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL IN ENGLAND?
From Monday next week overnight stays in self-contained accommodation will be allowed but only for members of the same household or support bubble.
WILL ATTRACTIONS BE OPEN?
Yes. Zoos, theme parks, drive-in cinemas and other outdoor attractions will reopen. Some indoor public buildings such as libraries and community centres will also open doors.
CAN I HAVE A DRINK AND FOOD WHILE OUT?
Pubs, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to open for outdoor service. There will no longer be an early curfew but customers will have to be seated.
WILL CARE HOME RESIDENTS BE ALLOWED MORE VISITORS?
The rules will change to allow two family members or friends per resident.
WILL MAJOR EVENTS RESTART?
Trials will begin on different ways to allow events with large crowds again, including through testing only or with vaccine passports. The World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield and the FA Cup Final at Wembley are among the events where different methods are being trialled.
SO, WILL WE ALL NEED VACCINE PASSPORTS?
The Government’s review says covid status certificates, which would show if someone is vaccinated, has recently been tested or has immunity after having the virus, could have an “important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure”. The Government is still some way off finalising any plans.
WILL SOCIAL DISTANCING END?
Not yet. The Government is looking at whether the rules can be relaxed in different settings.