Boris Johnson is set to announce his “roadmap” out of lockdown on Monday.
The prime minister has already confirmed that restrictions will start to be lifted from March 8 with schools set to reopen and one-on-one outdoor socialising allowed.
HuffPost UK understands that will be followed on March 29 by a further relaxation, allowing outdoor gatherings of two households or six people – raising the prospect of Easter family get-togethers. Outdoor sport will also return on this date.
Johnson again stressed the plan would be “cautious” and revealed four tests will have to be met before England can move through each step of relaxing restrictions.
But what are the four tests, and when can people go out shopping or have a drink and a meal?
The state of play
The country has been in lockdown since January 4. Since then, there is strong evidence the restrictions have worked, with cases plummeting from 642 per 100,000 over seven days, to 126.
At the same time, the vaccination programme has proceeded at breakneck pace, with first doses now offered to all over-70s, care home residents and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
The PM announced on Saturday that all over-50s and other vulnerable people will be offered first doses by April 15, meaning the vast majority of people most at risk should have some immunity by around May.
He also committed to offering first doses to the entire adult population by the end of July, raising hopes of the “great British summer” that Matt Hancock talked about earlier this year.
The four tests
The first of the four steps towards lifting lockdown will go ahead in two stages on March 8 and March 29 because England is currently meeting the four tests set by the government.
Further relaxation will only go ahead if these tests continue to be met.
- The continued success of the vaccination programme.
- Evidence showing jabs are sufficiently effective at reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
- Infection rates remaining low enough to ensure the NHS is not put under pressure.
- The government’s assessment of the risk not being “fundamentally changed” by new variants of concern.
So what’s in the first step?
HuffPost UK understands that on March 8 schools will reopen, alongside the return of outdoor after-school sports and activities.
People will be allowed to meet one-on-one to socialise outdoors, for example meeting for a picnic or drink.
The PM said: “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.”
HuffPost UK understands that, confusingly, there will be a second stage in the first step, to begin on March 29.
This will see rules relaxed further to allow outdoor gatherings of either two households of any size, or a maximum of six people from multiple households, raising the prospect of Easter family get-togethers.
Outdoor sports facilities such as football pitches, tennis and basketball courts will also reopen from this date.
When will we move to step two?
We don’t know yet.
But health secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday indicated the government would leave some “weeks” before each step in order to assess the impact of relaxing rules on infection rates.
“If you think about it, if you lift a measure and there’s more social contact, it takes typically about a week for people to become symptomatic,” he said.
“It then takes another couple of weeks to be able to see the effect of that, because it’s not just one person passing it to another, (it’s) if that chain continues.
“Hence there will be a few weeks between the steps so that we can watch carefully.”
When can we go to the pub?
Johnson is yet to reveal what restrictions will be eased in steps two, three and four.
But No.10 set out some broad principles, including ensuring there is a balance between health, social and economic impacts.
Outdoor activities are also known to be lower risk than indoor, and so will continue to be prioritised for relaxation.
However, there have been reports outlining a potential way forward.
Non-essential retail could reopen in April, alongside the possible return of outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.
But it appears unlikely that hospitality will reopen fully until at least May.
Beyond that, Johnson has suggested the government is looking at mass testing to allow the return of large events such as live sport or concerts.
All adults are also due to be vaccinated by the end of July, raising hopes of summer holidays, but ministers are refusing to comment on this.
When will we know more?
Senior ministers and officials have been locked in talks with Johnson over the weekend to finalise the roadmap.
He will put the proposals to a virtual meeting of the Cabinet on Monday morning.
Then he will announce the full plan in a statement to the House of Commons at about 3.30pm before taking questions from MPs.
Johnson will also be revealing the latest data on infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as early data on the effectiveness of vaccines.
In the evening, he will also host a televised press conference to answer questions about the roadmap from the public and the media.