Last reviewed 22 February 2021

Arguing that it is impossible to totally eliminate the threat of Covid, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his plan for lifting the current lockdown, balancing continued caution with the need to restore freedoms and boost the economy.

Data, not dates will be the watchword, Mr Johnson said, so the possibilities listed below are all subject to change if evidence shows that new problems have arisen.

Four tests

In addition, the lockdown will be lifted in stages subject to the following tests.

  1. The vaccine rollout continues to be successful.

  2. The number of hospital admissions and deaths continues falling.

  3. Pressure on the NHS does not reach unacceptable levels.

  4. Consideration is given to the impact of any variants of the virus.

Four steps to leaving lockdown

To allow for proper assessment of the impact and to allow people time to prepare, there will be “at least” five weeks between each of the following four steps.

  1. Step 1 from 8 March 2021 will be focused on schools. Pupils in all schools and further education settings will return to face-to-face teaching with breakfast and after school clubs reopened, together with sporting activities for children “where necessary to help parents to work”.

    One person from outside someone’s household can be met socially outside the home and preparations will go ahead for elections to take place on 6 May. In addition, every care home resident will be able to nominate one visitor from 8 March.

    From 29 March 2021 , the rule of six will return (including in private gardens). Tennis and basketball can resume and outdoor pools reopen. People must still work from home if possible but there will no longer be a legal requirement to stay at home.

  2. Step 2 from 12 April will mean, if the above is working and passing the four tests, that hairdressers, nail salons, non-essential retail, gyms, libraries and holiday lets can re-open. Pubs and restaurant can open for outdoor service with no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a scotch egg or any other substantial meal.

  3. Step 3, no earlier than 17 May, will see the return of the rule of six for indoor meetings, with groups of up to 30 allowed in outdoor settings. Pubs and restaurants can resume serving indoors and theatres, cinemas and concert halls will reopen as will some sports stadia (up to 10,000 people or a quarter of the stadium's capacity, whichever is the lowest). Up to 30 people can attend weddings, receptions, funerals and wakes.

  4. Step 4, finally, and no earlier than 21 June, the last restrictions will be lifted including on weddings and nightclubs. However, the removal of restrictions on large events and performances may involve using testing to reduce the risk of infection.

Four reviews

As well as the above measures, the Government will be carrying out a series of reviews to explore further ways of easing limits, as follows.

  • The first will examine how long we need to maintain social distancing and face coverings as well as informing guidance on working from home (which should continue wherever possible until this review is complete).

  • A second review will consider the resumption of international travel with a report by 12 April so that people can plan for the summer.

  • The third review will consider the potential role of “Covid-status certification” in helping venues to open safely.

  • The fourth review will look at the safe return of major events.

National vs local

For the moment, because levels of infection are broadly similar across all parts of England, restrictions will be lifted on a national basis but the Prime Minister has warned that there could be a need to take direct local action if circumstances require.

He described the plan as a “cautious but irreversible approach” and argued that people will be prepared to trade “some urgency and some haste for more certainty and more reliability”.