June 21: Will Step 4 lifting of coronavirus restrictions be delayed until July?
- Credit: PA
Freedom Day – June 21st – is fast approaching and we will discover on Monday, June 14 whether or not the planned easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will still go ahead later this month.
Step 4 is seen as the end of lockdown restrictions. At this stage of the government's "irreversible" roadmap, ministers originally hoped to remove all legal limits on social contact.
However, the Delta variant – the coronavirus strain first identified in India – is now spreading rapidly in the UK.
The government announced today (Saturday, June 12) that there had been a further 7,738 people testing positive for coronavirus in the UK. Cases rose by 8,125 on Friday.
There has been a 52.5 per cent increase over the last seven days, according to government figures.
Boris Johnson has said the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus is a matter of “serious, serious concern” as he considers whether to put June 21 lockdown easing on hold – potentially to July 19.
The Prime Minister is expected to announce on Monday a delay to lockdown lifting in England of up to four weeks, possibly with a review after two weeks, amid warnings the country is facing a third wave of the virus.
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He told Sky News: “It’s clear that the Indian variant is more transmissible and it’s also true that the cases are going up, and that the levels of hospitalisation are going up.
“Now, we don’t know exactly to what extent that is going to feed through into extra mortality, but clearly it’s a matter of serious, serious concern.”
Asked if he was less optimistic now than he was at the end of May, he said: “Yes, that’s certainly fair.
“What we want to do is make sure that the roadmap is irreversible, but you can’t have an irreversible roadmap unless you’re prepared to be cautious.
"Some of the data is still open to question, but we’ll be making an announcement on Monday.”
Will lockdown restrictions end on June 21st?
Step 4, the final stage of the government's roadmap out of lockdown, is due to take place no earlier than Monday, June 21, 2021. However, this earliest possible date is now in doubt and Step 4 looks set to be delayed, possibly by a month.
The spread of the Delta variant is threatening to derail the planned route out of lockdown until July.
No final decision has been made yet though.
Downing Street has said plans will be outlined in full on Monday, June 14.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the government will make a decision on the next stage of lockdown easing in England based on the latest data.
“We always knew there would be a chance of mutations and variants – that’s why this unlocking process was a progressive one and that’s why we have had these decision points laid out,” he told Sky News.
“That’s why the government, the Prime Minister and our scientific advisers will be assessing the data and making decisions for the announcement on Monday.
“We will make decisions with regard to lockdown based on the most up-to-date information.”
A delay in lockdown easing would, according to scientists, enable more people to be vaccinated, and give them time to assess whether a rise in coronavirus cases is leading to a corresponding increase in hospital admissions.
The Delta (Indian) variant is about 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent.
When is Step 4 of the government's roadmap?
Remaining coronavirus restrictions are due to be lifted at Step 4, provided the government's four tests are met.
The fourth and final step of the Prime Minister's roadmap out of lockdown will take place no earlier than five weeks after the country moved to Step 3.
Step 3 rules came into force on Monday, May 17th, so the earliest possible date to move to Step 4 in England is Monday, June 21st.
As set out in the roadmap, four weeks are needed to fully understand the impact of each step.
The government has also committed to providing a further week’s notice to businesses, so they can prepare for any reopenings.
What restrictions are due to be lifted at Step 4?
Step 4 of the government's roadmap is supposed to see the removal of all legal limits on social contact, and the reopening of businesses that had been forced to stay closed at Step 3.
This would see the relaxing of social distancing rules, leading to increased capacities at leisure and entertainment venues such as cinemas, theatres, music festivals and sports stadiums.
At Step 4, the government also hopes to lift the legal limit on weddings and other life events, subject to the outcome of the scientific Events Research Programme.
Step 4 of the roadmap will only go ahead on Monday, June 21 if the data shows that the government’s “four tests” for easing restrictions have been met.
What are the government's four tests?
Before taking each step of the roadmap, the government will review the latest data on the impact of the previous step against its four tests.
For lockdown curbs to be further lifted on June 21, the following criteria must be met.
The four tests are:
- The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
- The government's assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new 'Variants of Concern'.
Impact of Delta/Indian variant
Currently there's growing concern about the rise in case numbers linked to the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.
Public Health England (PHE) has said the coronavirus variant that first originated in India is now the dominant one in the UK.
It is now a race between the vaccine rollout and the virus, with second doses given better protection.
Government data up to June 11 shows that of the 70,741,984 jabs given in the UK so far, 41,291,331 were first doses – a rise of 202,846 on the previous day.
A total of 29,450,653 adults have received their second doses, an increase of 285,513 on the previous day.
Scientists hope the vaccine 'breaks the link' between catching COVID and hospital admissions and deaths.
What can reopen at Step 4?
This stage should see all remaining settings allowed to reopen.
Places such as nightclubs, dance halls, and discotheques, as well as adult entertainment venues are currently closed, and have been all year.
Step 4 should see the lifting of restrictions on social contact and large events that apply in Step 3. This is subject to the outcome of the Events Research Programme, and the reviews of social distancing measures and COVID-status certification.
The government will also look to relax COVID-secure requirements on businesses, subject to the outcome of the reviews.