Behind the scenes

Spring has sprung: the Covid restrictions to be lifted by May under ministers’ plans

Outdoor socialising could be allowed within weeks if vaccine campaign triggers big drop in Covid cases

The lockdown in England will begin to lift within weeks under “tentative” plans being drawn up by ministers hoping for a “quick return to normal” in the wake of the vaccines rollout, according to reports.

Government sources have told The Times that outdoor socialising and sports will be the first activities to get the green light from Boris Johnson after children return to school in March. 

Open-air markets and al-fresco dining are also expected to to be allowed to resume at around the same time, “but high-street shops and indoor dining will have to wait”, says the Daily Mail

A Whitehall insider told the paper that if the UK’s vaccine campaign continues to run smoothly, “you will start to see quite a quick return to normal in April and May”.

The Times reports that “a new set of indicators to be used to judge whether England can move to the next stage of the release is being prepared”, after the prime minister ruled out a return to the regional tiered system of restrictions.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph says that some of the government’s scientific advisers have accused Johnson of being “over-cautious” in keeping schools closed for another month.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told the paper that there “really isn’t a case for keeping all kids off until 8 March”.

MPs have also reportedly been told by other scientists “that it is already safe to open classrooms in some parts of the country after the seven-day infection rate fell to its lowest level since mid-December”. 

The lifting of lockdown does not have universal backing, however.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt is arguing that Covid restrictions should stay in place until infections are driven down to a manageable level of 1,000 a day.

The chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee told The Guardian that “we have to recognise that the game has changed massively over Christmas with these new variants”.

“We mustn’t make the mistake that we made last year of thinking that we’re not going to have another resurgence of the virus,” he added.

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