British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday confirmed that the United Kingdom (U.K.) will proceed on April 12 with its next step out of a three-month-long lockdown. Nonessential shops and businesses will be allowed to reopen, from barbers and beauty salons to gyms, and patio service at bars and restaurants.
A current ban on overnight stays away from home will also be lifted on April 12, and such outdoor venues as zoos and drive-in movie theatres will be allowed to resume operations, as well, the Associated Press reported.
It’s a meaningful step for the U.K., which has been under strict lockdown since December, after a winter surge that’s been attributed to a homegrown, fast-spreading COVID-19 variant called B.1.1.7. With the highest coronavirus count in Europe, the U.K. has had nearly 4.4 million cases thus far, with more than 127,000 related deaths.
During a press conference Monday, Johnson said that the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine program was moving forward well and that infection rates have recently been falling. New cases and deaths have declined sharply as a result of the current lockdown and since the start of the country’s vaccination campaign.
Thus far, more than 31 million U.K. residents, or six in ten adults, have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine series, and more than five million have gotten their second.
The government’s goal is to have administered at least one jab to all U.K. adults by July, and it’s hoping that mass testing in combination with widespread vaccination of the population will enable indoor gatherings and large-scale events to resume. To aid the effort, everyone in England will be entitled to receive two free rapid COVID-19 tests every week, officials announced separately.
“We set out our road map and we’re sticking to it,” Johnson said. Although, he also cautioned, “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries, and we’ve seen how this story goes.”
Of course, as the weather warms, the question on every Briton’s mind is whether international travel will be allowed to resume in time for the summer holidays. According to CNBC, Johnson told reporters that a task force has been assigned this week to lay out a “reasonable” plan for restarting nonessential travel abroad. He emphasized that it was too soon to make a decision yet, but he’s “hopeful” that foreign travel might be feasible as early as May 17.
Once international travel is again allowed, Britain’s quarantine rules for U.K. residents returning from abroad will rely on a “traffic light system” used to designate the risk level of various destinations. But, Johnson said it was far too early to say which countries would fall into which categories. “I do not wish to give hostages to fortune, or to underestimate the difficulties we are seeing in some of the destination countries that people might want to go to. We don’t want to see the virus reimported to this country,” he asserted.
Johnson also spoke to the possibility of incorporating so-called “COVID-19 passports” or “COVID Status Certifications”, but said the government was working through “complicated, ethical and practical issues” inherent in the idea. These would consist of such documentation as vaccination certificates, recent test results and proof of prior recovery (and resulting immunity) from COVID-19, which could potentially streamline the process of traveling abroad.