The government is planning to go ahead with the next stage of lockdown easing in England on April 12 with the planned reopening of non-essential shops, outdoor pubs and restaurants, Boris Johnson will confirm on Monday.
The UK prime minister will hold a Downing Street press conference where he will set out the next phase of easing the nationwide restrictions that were introduced on January 4. During the first stage of easing in March, schools returned and outdoor socialising was allowed.
Senior ministers, including chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Matt Hancock, will meet on Monday to examine the latest Covid-19 data and sign off the next phase. Two senior government officials confirmed that the relaxation would get the green light from ministers.
Johnson will also deliver an update on Monday on several government reviews, including on the resumption of international travel, vaccine certifications and the relaxation of social-distancing guidelines.
He will set out the process for resuming travel with the return of a traffic light system for destinations. Countries will be designated red, amber and green, with different levels of testing and quarantine regimes.
Whitehall insiders said three variables would define how destinations were placed on the list: the level of vaccination, the prevalence of new “variants of concern” and the infection rate.
Vaccination rates are expected to be the most crucial, whereas infections rates were the top priority in last year’s traffic light system.
One government insider said: “You could see a situation where countries with higher infection rates are easier to travel to because of their vaccination rates and the lack of new variants.”
There may also be a differentiation between those who have received one or two Covid-19 vaccines. “If you’ve had one jab, that might require more testing than two,” said one official working on the plans.
International travel will not resume until May 17 at the earliest, but Johnson is not expected to set out a specific timeline.
“We will set out a framework tomorrow but no dates,” said a No 10 insider.
Another senior Whitehall figure said: “May will not be ruled out for international travel, but the PM may say it’s still too early to book a summer holiday.”
The second review Johnson will discuss on Monday is on vaccination passports. Trials of a certification scheme will begin in May for nine major events, including the FA Cup semi-finals and the World Snooker Championships.
Hancock said that “by piloting a range of measures to reduce transmission, we can gather vital scientific evidence to inform our plans for allowing events in the future”.
Nigel Huddleston, sports minister, said the trials would initially be focused on a rigorous testing regime instead of jabs. “The earlier pilots almost certainly won’t involve any elements of certification but will involve testing, making sure that people are tested before and after the events,” he said in a pooled clip for broadcasters.
The trials will later expand to include those with jabs with the repurposing of an existing NHS app. Ministers are hoping that the trials scheme will help provide an incentive to younger people to get vaccinated.
“If people see packed football stadiums with people certified, they will think ‘we’re missing a boat’ and we hope it will get people signing up,” said a government insider.
The app pilots, which will be overseen by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, are expected to be introduced cautiously given the likely opposition from libertarian-minded Conservative MPs.
Further trials of the NHS app for jabs are expected over the summer. “If the trials in May go well, you could see a gradual rollout with further trails from June onwards,” an official said.
The final government review Johnson will discuss on Monday is into social-distancing guidelines and when and how they can be relaxed later in the summer to allow indoor socialising and the full return of workers to offices.
But any decisions will not be made until early June when vaccine certification trials have finished. “The data from those pilots will be crucial, they will feed into the review,” one official said.
Whether vaccine certification is required for indoor pubs or restaurants will be decided by the social-distancing review.
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