Boris Johnson’s long-awaited roadmap announcement is expected in the House of Commons at 3pm on Monday, followed by a televised address to the nation at 7pm from Downing Street. England is in the midst of its third national lockdown since March 2020 and many are hopeful lockdown measures can start to ease for good over the coming months. But the Prime Minister has made clear any easing of lockdown measures will be based on “data, not dates”.
Although the nation will have to wait a little while before the exact stages of the roadmap are outlined by the Prime Minister, the Government has already said there will be four key stages of easing the lockdown in England.
But easing of any measures will be dependent on four different key criteria, the Prime Minister has confirmed.
Boris Johnson said ahead of his planned announcement on Monday: “Today I’ll be setting out a roadmap to bring us out of lockdown cautiously.
“Our priority has always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing, and we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.
“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 and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe.
“We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan.”
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Test 1: The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
One of the key considerations the Government has confirmed will be taken into account for all decisions relating to lockdown easing is vaccine rollout.
The NHS succeeded in offering all within the top four priority groups a Covid vaccine by February 15.
Now the NHS is aiming to offer all within the top nine priority groups a Covid vaccination by the end of April, with the rest of the adult population expected to be vaccinated by the end of July.
While the UK’s vaccine rollout programme has widely been cited as a success so far, its continued success is dependent on the supply of vaccines to the UK.
There is global demand for vaccinations, but at the moment ministers are confident they will be able to stick to their targets.
In light of the July vaccination target, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that “we now think that we have the supplies” to speed up the vaccination campaign.
Test 2: Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
More than 17 million people have now received their first dose of the Covid vaccine in the UK.
There is some early data to suggest the vaccines are significantly effective at reducing hospital admissions and deaths in those vaccinated.
The preprint analysis of AstraZeneca’s Phase III clinical trials in Britain, South Africa and Brazil found the vaccine protected participants against severe illness and hospitalisation from COVID-19.
In Israel, where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was rolled out on a major scale, results are also promising and show significant protection against the virus for those vaccinated.
However, the efficacy of vaccines will continue to be monitored over the coming weeks and months, with the entire adult population not expected to have been vaccinated with at least one dose until the end of July.
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Test 3: Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations, which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
At the moment, the infection rate across the UK appears to be dropping and the R number is finally thought to be below 1.
In the last seven days, there have been 77,432 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK – a drop of 16.2 percent compared to the previous week.
There have also been 10,501 patients admitted to hospital in the last week, a decrease of 20.9 percent compared to the week before.
Although the NHS is not currently overwhelmed, rising cases and an increase in hospital admissions could quickly put significant pressure on the healthcare service.
So understandably, the number of Covid cases and hospitalisations will be factors in deciding whether to ease any lockdown stages over the next few months.
Test 4: The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern
Over the past few months, significant concerns have been raised by the development of new variants of COVID-19.
Dubbed the ‘Kent strain’, a new variant of coronavirus thought to have originated in South East England prompted concern about how resistant it could be to the existing Covid vaccines.
Notably, variants thought to have originated in South Africa and Brazil have also been worrying experts.
However, the Government has introduced stricter travel measures and rapid testing to help identify and prevent cases of new variants in the UK.
Experts are also confident new Covid variants in the future could still be effectively handled by vaccines if the vaccines are altered.
New Covid variants will be kept under investigation over the coming months and should any prove concerning, they will be considered in discussions on whether to ease lockdown measures.