England’s fourth and final stage in the roadmap back to normality is due to commence from June 21 at the earliest. The step will see most legal restrictions lifted as the UK returns to a semblance of normality.
Crucial reviews on whether social distancing and mask-wearing should remain beyond next month, as well as whether limits on numbers at weddings can be lifted, are set to be published this week.
The decisions are separate to the four-stage roadmap with the Cabinet Office carrying out an investigation on their necessity in recent weeks.
Relaxing the “one metre plus” rule and mask-wearing are seen as key parts of the return to normal, with the hospitality industry warning lower numbers in bars and restaurants due to the restrictions are taking their toll on businesses.
The commencement to Stage Four without the ending of compulsory social distancing would deal a significant blow to those hoping to put Covid firmly behind them this summer.
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A fortnight ago the Prime Minister vowed to unveil the reviews by the end of this month.
Downing Street backtracked on the pledge last week following concern about the Indian variant of the virus spreading through the UK.
Officials warned they needed more time to assess the risk posed by the mutant strain.
Ministers have repeatedly warned any new variants which are vaccine resistant could throw the roadmap off course.
Speaking about the timing of the review, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said last week: “We can’t be definitive at this point because of this variant that has been identified.
“We need to get as much data in so that we can, if at all possible, take the next step.”
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The announcement will not confirm if Stage Four is going ahead on June 21 but will give a clearer sense as to how much of pre-pandemic life will return when the last step is implemented.
The Prime Minister has said at least four weeks is needed to assess the impact on infections from the most recent easing of restrictions on May 17.
A decision on Stage Four will be announced on June 14 at the earliest.
While the Indian variant is now thought to be dominant in some parts of the UK, scientists are optimistic.
Speaking yesterday, Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the data on the Indian variant – officially known as B1617.2 – was “looking good” and the easing of restrictions on June 21 could be unimpeded.
She told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals, so we should not stop doing what we’re doing, particularly in areas where we have that variant of concern, the B1617.2, in the North West and around London.
“It’s really important that people continue to do hands, face, space and work from home, have their jabs and go for tests as well.
“We all need to be very cautious and I think we all don’t want to go back to the sort of lockdowns that we’ve had, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) or out in the public, none of us want to return to that sort of restriction.”