Boris Johnson will announce England’s provisional “roadmap” for reopening after coronavirus lockdown today, 22 February. The plan, which looks set to begin with the reopening of schools in England on 8 March, and is expected to extend to restaurants by May, will be subject to four “tests” implemented by the government. If the quartet of conditions are met at each stage, reopening will proceed as laid out today:
- The vaccine programme continues successfully
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently reducing the number of people dying with the virus or hospitalised
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
- The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.
For restaurants and pubs, the inevitable reopening leak has already foretold what’s coming: restricted indoor and outdoor dining from May, with two households allowed to mix indoors and the “rule of six” applying outdoors. Newer leaks — what a country — suggest that outdoor reopening could be earlier, by Easter. It is also expected that the phased reopening plan will not include unpopular half-way and selective restrictions such as the 10 p.m. curfew, “substantial meal” clause, or tiered restrictions in different regions of the country.
This plan is a departure from previous lockdown reopenings, as the tests do not include a consideration of the infection rate absent its ties to hospitalisation. This is because of the vaccine roll-out in England, and new data on its impact on transmission, expected in the same public address as the reopening plan, might actually be the biggest news for hospitality venues. If, as expected, the vaccines have a “substantial” impact and reduce transmission by around two-thirds, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars can look forward to — eventually — reopening without restrictions, perhaps in late summer. This, absent a huge, unlikely uptick in financial support for the early reopening from the government, is what they need more than anything: to reopen with restrictions when they are guaranteed to stay open. With Johnson expected to address MPs around 3 p.m., workers and owners wait.