Boris Johnson to Allow Adults to Sit Outdoors on a Park Bench With One Friend
A slight relaxation of the current rule, which permitts outdoor meetings of two people only while standing up
All schoolchildren will return to the classroom on March 8 under plans to start lifting the lockdown, Boris Johnson will announce in a national address next week.
Under the government’s blueprint to reopen society, adults will initially have only small new freedoms so as to prioritise the return of schools — a move ministers know will raise the coronavirus R number for infections. [Idiotic, no it won’t.]
Adults will be allowed to sit down outdoors for a coffee or on a park bench with one friend, or with members of their own family — a slight relaxation of the current rule, which permits outdoor meetings only while standing up.
The decision to reopen both primary and secondary schools goes against the advice of some government scientists. But the prime minister was swayed by faster than expected reductions in hospital admissions and infections.
The move to prioritise the return of pupils over reopening the economy will put the prime minister on a collision course with Conservative MPs, 63 of whom signed a letter this weekend demanding the lifting of all restrictions by the end of April.
Downing Street regards a slow easing of social distancing measures as the price it has to pay for schools going back. “Getting pupils in class is the PM’s top priority,” a source said. “We know that will increase infections and we need to move cautiously with everything else.”
A second easing of social distancing rules is expected at the end of next month with the resumption of outdoor sports — such as golf and tennis — for two people from different households.
Further lifting of lockdown measures will depend on the progress of the virus and the vaccination programme. A decision on when to reopen universities is yet to be taken.
Yesterday Johnson said he was “optimistic”, but added: “We have to be cautious. We don’t want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret. Our children’s education is our No 1 priority.”
Last night teachers warned against the move.
Steve Chalke, chief executive of the Oasis academies trust, one of the largest in the country, with more than 50 schools, said he believed it was “impossible” to open all schools fully and urged a phased return with exam years brought back first.
“We should be driven by scientific data, not dates,” he said.
Ministers have drawn up a four-speed plan for restarting the economy, with all shops, pubs and restaurants open anywhere between early May and August.
The whole country will move together through a series of national tiers — which may be different from those in operation last year — with reviews every fortnight.
The “superfast” plan would see restaurants and pubs reopening in early May once all the over-50s have been vaccinated.
The slower alternatives would see pubs and restaurants reopen by the spring bank holiday on May 31 or by mid-June. The slowest route would be to reopen by August. A senior Whitehall source said that options two and three were most likely.
“You’ve got a most optimistic scenario to a least optimistic scenario,” a No 10 source added. “The dates will move around according to what the pandemic’s doing, the influence of the vaccines.”
Ministers and scientists also hope to be able to remove the requirement for the public to wear masks on public transport and in shops by September so long as the ‘R’ rate has dropped below 0.3.
Exam boards are to ditch plans to force teenagers to sit mini exams to help them decide their GCSE and A-level results, under plans set to be published next week. Instead the tests will be voluntary and teachers will hold one-to-one meetings to students about the grades they should be aspiring to in order to avert last year’s grades fiasco.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations is examining whether to give teachers priority for jabs once the first nine vulnerable groups have had their injections. But cabinet sources think it is more likely that the vaccine rollout will continue according to age groups, rather than sectors of the economy.
Only No 10’s most optimistic scenario seems likely to satisfy Conservative MPs. Backbenchers in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) have written to Johnson demanding that all pubs and restaurants are allowed to open by Easter and all restrictions lifted by the end of April.
The letter signed by Mark Harper and Steve Baker, the ringleaders of the rebels and 61 other MPs says: “Once all nine priority groups have been protected by the end of April, there is no justification for any legislative restrictions to remain,” on the basis that “these groups represent 99% of Covid deaths and about 80% of hospitalisations”.
Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 backbench committee, also urged the government to accelerate its plans. “All of the metrics are positive and we have seen the infection rates drop rapidly since the New Year, along with falling hospital admissions and mortality rates,” he said.
Downing Street will make a judgment about the initial speed of restrictions when they see the latest data on the virus early this week.
Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will then hold a series of crunch meetings to determine the shape of the budget on March 3.
Source: The Times