LONDON – Children in England will return to class and people will be able to meet a friend outside for coffee in two weeks’ time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday as he laid out a slow easing of one of Europe’s strictest pandemic lockdowns.
But those longing for a haircut, a restaurant meal or a pint in a pub have almost two months to wait, and people won’t be able to hug loved ones that they don’t live with until May at the earliest.
Johnson said the government's plan would move the country “cautiously but irreversibly” out of lockdown.
“We are now traveling on a one-way road to freedom,” he said at a televised news conference.
But it's a slow road, not a highway.
Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 120,000 deaths. Faced with dominant virus variant that scientists say is both more transmissible and more deadly than the original virus, the country has spent much of the winter under a tight lockdown, the third since March 2020. Bars, restaurants, gyms, schools, hair salons and nonessential shops are closed, people are urged not to travel out of their local area and foreign holidays are illegal.
That will begin to change, slowly, on March 8, when children in England go back to school and people are allowed to meet one friend or relative for a chat or picnic outdoors. Three weeks later, people will be able to meet in small groups outdoors for sports or relaxation.
Under the government plan, shops and hairdressers will reopen April 12. So will pubs and restaurants, though only outdoors. Indoor venues such as theaters and cinemas, and indoor seating in bars and restaurants, are scheduled to open May 17, and limited crowds will be able to return to sports stadiums. It is also the earliest date Britons may be allowed foreign holidays.