Boris Johnson press conference LIVE: Prime Minister outlines plan for easing Covid lockdown in televised address

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to set out a “steady as she goes” plan for easing England’s lockdown, with schools and outdoor activities the first in line for a return.

PM Boris Johnson.
PM Boris Johnson.

Scotland’s route out of lockdown will not be identical to the UK Government’s but will be “broadly similar”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Mr Johnson is also expected to host a Downing Street press conference at 7pm on Monday alongside key advisers.

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You can follow all the updates from the PM’s announcement this afternoon along with his press conference this evening in our dedicated live blog.

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Last updated: Monday, 22 February, 2021, 19:26

Boris Johnson said “there is light ahead” as a result of the vaccination programme.

At a press conference setting out the road map out of lockdown, Mr Johnson said it was time for the jabs to start replacing curbs on liberty as a way of protecting against Covid-19.

“We cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that have separated families and loved ones for too long, threatened the livelihoods of millions, kept pupils out of school,” he said.

“Thanks to the vaccinations there is light ahead, leading us to a spring and a summer, which I think will be seasons of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better for us all.”

The Prime Minister also promised the Government would do “whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods” across the UK while the restrictions continue.

Prof Whitty said the number of people testing positive with Covid-19 has “fallen and is continuing to fall” – but he warned that the rates are “still very high”.

Boris Johnson said spring and summer should be “seasons of hope” from which “we will not go back”.

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has started speaking – and is giving slide show.

Boris Johnson: We’re on a ‘one-way road to freedom’

Boris Johnson begins Downing Street briefing

Downing Street briefing coming up – follow all the updates here

Mixing indoors from May 17 at the earliest, while ministers will review hugging

Limited social mixing indoors will be permitted again from May 17 at the earliest, while ministers will review whether people can hug their loved ones.

Boris Johnson’s four-step plan to end the coronavirus lockdown in England paves the way for groups of six – or two households – to meet outdoors from when the second stage of Step 1 begins, “no earlier than” March 29.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve people outside only from Step 2 – no earlier than April 12 – with no need for meals to be ordered with alcohol, under the Prime Minister’s “road map” published on Monday.

Indoor gatherings of six people will not be permitted until Step 3 – not before May 17 – when 30-strong outdoor gatherings will be allowed.

But the road map acknowledges “it may be possible to go further than this” on indoor meetings “depending on the data”.

Around this stage, ministers will review social distancing rules between friends and family, potentially allowing hugging to return for the first time since the first lockdown in March last year.

What does each step of England’s four-stage lockdown-easing plan mean for sport?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions imposed in England to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Here, the PA news agency looks at how grassroots sport and attendance at live events will be reintroduced.

Step 1 – March 8, and March 29 at the earliest

From March 8, under-18s can take part in sport at school as part of the reopening of educational settings from that date, or as part of wraparound care.

From March 29, the second part of step one, outdoor sports facilities can reopen. These can be used by groups of up to six people, with those from different bubbles adhering to social distancing.

Organised adults and children’s outdoor sports can also return at this stage, and will not be subject to gatherings limits.

Step 2 – April 12 at the earliest

Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms can reopen, but only to be used alone or as part of a household group.

Children will be able to attend any indoor activity, including sport, regardless of circumstances.

The roadmap also sets April as the date when pilot events will begin to test out how enhanced testing and other measures can allow for the safe return of spectators to events without the need for social distancing.

Step 3 – May 17 at the earliest

Crowds can return to sports venues. For larger outdoor seated venues this could mean as many as 10,000 people; for smaller outdoor venues it would be 4,000 maximum or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lowest; for indoor venues it would be 1,000 maximum or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lowest.

Organised indoor sports for adults could also resume.

Step 4 – June 21 at the earliest

Full capacity venues possible dependent on the success of pilot events. At that step, the intention is to “remove all legal limits on social contact”.

Crackdown urged on bosses forcing staff into office when they can work from home

Union leaders have called for a crackdown on firms forcing staff to return to offices after the Government continued to advise people to work from home where they can.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hopes that from June 21 there should be an end of all legal limits on social contact but working from home looks set to continue.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government must crack down on bosses who are forcing staff into the office when they can work from home. This is a clear breach of the guidance and is putting workers and communities at risk of infection.

“Unions have been contacted by hundreds of people in this situation – including in Government agencies like the DVLA, where there have been more than 500 Covid infections.

“People forced into their workplace unnecessarily should have the right to trigger an HSE spot check and employers found to be breaking the law should be fined.

“It’s time to end the foot-dragging approach to enforcement that has characterised workplace safety in this pandemic.”

‘Impossible’ to trade profitably outdoors in April warn pub bosses amid road map

Pub chiefs have warned that it will be “very difficult, if not impossible” to trade profitably when sites can open in April due to outside restrictions but said the Prime Minister has given the sector “hope”.

Pub, restaurants and other hospitality operators will be able to serve customers outside from April 12 at the earliest, Boris Johnson said on Monday.

He also told MPs that shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions could also reopen from this date in the second phase of his “road map” out of restrictions.

From May 17 at the earliest, two households or a group of six will be able to meet indoors in a pub or hospitality venue.

All restrictions on social contact could be relaxed by June 21, allowing nightclubs to reopen.

The chief executive of the UK Music trade body has said it is “hugely welcome” that the Government has “set out a clear route to reopen the live music industry”.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: “Our world-leading live music scene – ranging from stadium and concert-hall filling acts to emerging solo performers in the local pub – will help lift people’s spirits and deliver a huge cultural and economic boost as we emerge from this pandemic.

“While the astounding success of the vaccine rollout means the end of the health emergency is in sight, the economic toll of this pandemic will be with us for a long time to come – making dynamic growth industries like the UK music industry more important than ever.

“The music industry can play a key role in the post-pandemic economic and social recovery, and live music events could be the shot in the arm that Britain needs as we look to bounce back from this pandemic.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London and a senior scientific adviser, said he thought the Prime Minister’s road map for releasing lockdown struck the “right balance”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “I think it is the right balance of giving people hope that we are not in this situation forever and yet being relatively cautious about the pace of relaxing measures.”

Prof Ferguson said it was “not completely impossible but probably quite unlikely” that ministers would be able to accelerate the easing process, and speeding up the transition through the stages would depend on the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing transmission.

He added that Covid-19 cases are likely to rise once schools return in England next month.

“I’m afraid, as the Prime Minister said, we think R will go above 1.0 – it may even go above 1.0 when the schools reopen,” he said.

“It is down at 0.7-0.8 at the moment but the new variants and reopening schools might just push it a little above 1.0, so we have to be prepared for case numbers to start rising again, but the calculations would indicate that the rise in cases will be more than counterbalanced by the rise in immunity and protection of the population by vaccination.”

Secondary school and college pupils face regular rapid Covid-19 tests at home

Secondary school and college students in England will be asked to take regular coronavirus tests at home when they return to school next month.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that all pupils will return to class from March 8, but the return of students in secondary schools and colleges could be staggered due to the logistics of mass testing.

Secondary school and college students and staff are also being advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained until Easter under strengthened protective measures.

Pupils in secondary schools and colleges will be asked to carry out rapid Covid-19 tests at home twice a week after they have been tested three times on site over the first two weeks of term.

Students in secondary schools and colleges will be asked to use a lateral flow device when they return in a fortnight – and if they test negative, they will be allowed to resume face-to-face classes.

Secondary school and college leaders will be given some flexibility to stagger the return of students from the week beginning March 8 to ensure pupils are tested before returning to class.

Primary school children will not need to take a rapid coronavirus test, but primary school staff will continue to take two rapid tests each week at home.

Sturgeon criticised for missing ‘pivotal’ UK call to make TV briefing appearance

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of missing “pivotal” coronavirus talks with Boris Johnson and the other leaders from across the UK to take part in her TV briefings.

The First Minister left a four nations call with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the leaders of the other devolved administrations to take part in her regular coronavirus broadcast.

With the call between the leaders coming as plans for the easing of lockdown restrictions are being unveiled, the Scottish Tories accused the First Minister of having the wrong priority.

A Conservative spokesman said: “It will raise more than a few eyebrows that Nicola Sturgeon’s priority is the BBC briefing over working together constructively with other governments.”

He added: “She missed a pivotal discussion in favour of a TV appearance where nothing was announced.

“It shows the value that the SNP leader puts on these BBC briefings in the run-up to the election in May.”

The Scotsman

The Scotsman is a Scottish compact newspaper and daily news website headquartered in Edinburgh. First established as a radical political paper in 1817, it began daily publication in 1855 and remained a broadsheet until August 2004. Its parent company, JPIMedia, also publishes the Edinburgh Evening News.

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