Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown has been met with caution in Leicestershire where a ‘worrying plateauing’ of infection rates has been revealed.
As the Prime Minister announced how the latest lockdown will come to an end, cases in the city and county have started to level off in the last week or so.
Mike Sandys, director of public health for Leicestershire County Council, said: “We’re looking into the detail around the PM’s announcement and, while there is a setting-out of a Government plan to gradually ease restrictions, here in Leicestershire we’ve seen a worrying plateauing in the rate – and an increase in some areas – over the past seven days.
“That means there is no room for complacency and we still need people to remain vigilant at all times. Please follow the guidelines around hands, face, space.”
The roadmap also confirms that those living in the city will have spent more than a year under some level of local lockdown when restrictions are finally lifted.
The city entered lockdown along with everywhere else on March 23 last year as the national restrictions first started. But aside from a short summer window where rule of six outdoor meet-ups were permitted and the Christmas day relaxation, seeing friends and family for those in the city has been strictly restricted.
A new rule of six or two household meet-up rule is due to come into force on March 29, meaning city residents will have been living under some level of Covid restrictions for a year and six days before they can be reunited with those close to them at the same time as elsewhere in the country.
The June 21 target date of easing all restrictions falls less than a week before what would mark a year since local restrictions were announced for the city.
It was June 29 when Health Secretary announced that Leicester would be the first city placed in local lockdown. It was and still remains the only area that saw non-essential retail close and schools shut to all but keyworkers’ kids as part of localised rules.
Dates for all four steps come with a warning that they are the earliest we should expect to see relaxations, so a year on from the announcement of the local lockdown could potentially see some Covid rules still in place.
At the moment, a national and ‘uniform’ approach will be adopted, but the PM did warn “We can’t rule out reintroducing restrictions at a local level,” depending on rates and variants.
The dates attached to the four steps will all be based on four tests, with room for movement if the tests are not met.
The four tests are:
That the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
That evidence shows jabs are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
That infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which puts unsustainable pressure on the NHS
That the Government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern
Unveiling his roadmap, Boris Johnson said he had taken a ‘cautious’ and ‘irreversible’ approach and that “Lifting lockdown will result in more cases, hospitalisations and sadly more deaths.”
Whenever rules are relaxed, there will be an impact, the PM said before warning there is “no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain nor indeed a zero-Covid world”.
The four steps are:
- Step one: March 8 – all pupils return to school and college, people can meet one person outside. March 29, rule of six or two households can meet outside. Organised sport can start up again.
- Step two: April 12 at the earliest – non-essential retail, hairdressers and beauty salons, outdoor hospitality can also reopen with pubs and restaurants allowed to serve customers outside in line with the rule of six. Gyms and swimming pools can also reopen.
- Step three: May 17 at the earliest – Outdoor rules to ease, indoor socialising allowed with restrictions and sporting events and performances can start to welcome spectators. Weddings can take place with up to 30 people.
- Step four: June 21 is the earliest date the Government hopes to be able to lift all restrictions and open up all areas of the economy.
He went on to detail the four-step plan before adding: “The end really is in sight. A wretched year will give way to a spring and summer that will be very different and incomparably better than the picture we see around us today.”
Asked about those who believe lockdown should end sooner, he said: “There will be others who will believe we could go faster on the basis of that vaccination programme and I understand their feelings and I sympathise very much with the exhaustion and the stress that people are experiencing and that businesses are experiencing after so long in lockdown.”
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Encouraging vaccine data cited by the PM shows that hospital admissions were reduced by 85 per cent and 94 per cent for the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs respectively after research in Scotland.
The impact on the NHS has long been a measure as to how the fight against the virus is going so this news is more than welcome.
He said that the success of vaccination programme has “dramatically changed the odds in our favour”.
More than 250,000 people in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland have received their first dose.