British PM Johnson to plot path out of lockdown on Monday
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce plans on Monday to reopen England's schools and allow people to see family and friends, part of a phased exit from COVID-19 lockdown underpinned by one of the world's fastest vaccine roll-outs. With more than 120,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world's fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its $3 trillion economy its biggest crash in over 300 years.Reuters | Updated: 22-02-2021 20:17 IST | Created: 22-02-2021 20:12 IST
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce plans on Monday to reopen England's schools and allow people to see family and friends, part of a phased exit from COVID-19 lockdown underpinned by one of the world's fastest vaccine roll-outs.
With more than 120,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world's fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its $3 trillion economy its biggest crash in over 300 years. But a fast start to the vaccine roll-out plus a sharp fall in infections means Johnson can now set out a cautious easing of England's tough national lockdown, which started on Jan. 5.
New cases across the United Kingdom hovered around 11,000 a day last week, compared with a high of over 80,000 in late December. "Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far," Johnson said on Twitter.
"Our priority has always been getting children back into school ... We'll also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely," he said, ahead of his full announcement in parliament due at 1530 GMT. As the plan unfolds, lawmakers will have a chance to vote on specific steps. Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are responsible for their own public health, will also ease restrictions over the coming months.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of the vaccine roll-out, said English schools would reopen on March 8. They have been open only to vulnerable pupils and to key workers' children since Jan. 5, with others learning remotely from home. The reopening of schools is expected to help the economy, freeing up parents who have had to juggle work and homeschooling.
Zahawi also said on LBC Radio that two people from separate households would be allowed to meet outdoors from March 8, while from March 29 outdoor socialising would be permitted for groups of up to six people, or for two households together.
SPEEDY VACCINE ROLL-OUT
Johnson faces pressure from politicians in his Conservative Party to restart the economy but also from scientific advisers who fear a resurgence of the virus if he unlocks too quickly. He has appeared more cautious in recent months than earlier in the pandemic when he was widely criticised for his eagerness to reopen shops, restaurants, pubs and offices.
This time, he is expected to say that there will be a five-week pause in between each phase of the plan, to allow for the impact to be assessed before moving on to the next step. He is also expected to say that factors such as the speed and success of the inoculation programme, the state of infection rates and the impact of any new variants of the virus will be taken into account in deciding about easing restrictions.
In Scotland, the vaccination drive appears to be markedly reducing the risk of hospitalisation for COVID-19, according to preliminary study findings published on Monday. Britain moved faster than most countries to secure vaccine supplies and has been inoculating people rapidly since December, a strategy that has driven sterling and stock markets higher on hopes of an economic rebound.
The pound hit a new three-year high of $1.4050 in early London trading on Monday. Some 17.6 million Britons, over a quarter of the 67 million population, have now received the first dose, behind only Israel and the United Arab Emirates in vaccines per head of population.
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