This week the Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his plan to take the country out of the lockdown and the COVID restrictions that we have endured to varying degrees of severity for nearly a year. The final deadline for the lifting of all social contact restrictions will be 21st June. The longest day finally ending what’s been the longest year. Whilst that deadline may sound like a long way off, over the next seven weeks we will see a substantial easing of the national lockdown restrictions.
We start on 8th March by taking one of the most important steps first, bringing back all of the schools across the country to allow the return of face to face teaching. In addition to this care home residents will be allowed one regular visitor. By 29th March, the week in which most schools break up for Easter, the stay at home order will end, outdoor grassroots sport with return for children and adults, and the rule of six will be brought back for gatherings of people outside. By 12th April non-essential retail will be able to re-open, as well as personal care premises like hairdressers, and community centres and libraries. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools will be back, and hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors. From 17th May most social contact rules will be lifted, although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal. Indoor hospitality and entertainment venues, like cinemas will also return. By 21st June, it is hoped that the final restrictions will be lifted.
This is a cautious timetable, allowing for a proper study of the impact of each step on the control of the coronavirus. In Folkestone and Hythe, as across the country, the infection rates have fallen substantially and consistently since the beginning of the year. The current levels locally are back to where they were last October and are continuing to fall. At each point as the restrictions are lifted we want to make sure that those rates don’t start to rise again. Some people might say, how can we be so sure that we will meet this timetable when we’ve been in and out of lockdowns before. The big difference now is the vaccine, which has already been delivered to everyone over the age of 70, and the top four most vulnerable groups of citizens. These are the people who would be most likely to need hospital treatment if they were infected by the virus, so their protection from COVID, should also remove pressure from the NHS. By the end of July, the government has set the challenge of ensuring that all adults will have been offered the vaccine. It is this protection from infection offered by the vaccine, that should allow us to complete the lifting of all restrictions. So, over the coming weeks we will be able to meet up again, more businesses will return to serving their customers and we will be able to plan for the summer.