Lockdown will start to be eased in two weeks with schools reopening before a wider relaxation allowing people to have Easter get-togethers outdoors, Boris Johnson will announce on Monday.
From the same date, people will be allowed to meet socially one-on-one in outdoor public spaces such as parks, where they will be able to share a picnic or drink with a friend or family member.
HuffPost UK understands that this initial easing will be followed on March 29 by a further relaxation, allowing outdoor gatherings of two households or a maximum of six people, raising the prospect of Easter family meet-ups.
Outdoor sport facilities such as grassroots football pitches, tennis and basketball courts will also reopen on this second date.
The two stages together make up the first of a “cautious” four-step plan to release England from lockdown that Johnson will reveal to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, alongside the latest data on the spread of the pandemic and effectiveness of the vaccines.
These relaxations will go ahead only because the country is currently meeting four tests set by the government.
The four tests for each step of lockdown relaxation
- 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 unsustainable pressure.
- The government’s assessment of the risk not being “fundamentally changed” by new variants of concern.
Johnson is expected to reveal the details of the next steps in his Commons statement, but each one will only go ahead if all four tests continue to be met.
In line with the initial announcement, health secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday suggested the government would leave around three weeks between each step to see the impact of relaxation on the four tests.
Johnson said: “[On Monday] 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.”
Downing Street confirmed that the controversial regional tiers will be scrapped, with restrictions eased step-by-step across the whole of England due to the “relatively uniform” spread of the virus.
Johnson’s roadmap will seek to balance health, social and economic impacts, while prioritising outdoor activities at first, as they are known to be lower risk.
MPs will be given the opportunity to vote on the regulations that will enable the roadmap “in the coming weeks”, No.10 said.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to set out their own approaches for easing lockdown, while working with the UK government.