‘READY for the Rule of Six’: While it’s still three weeks until pubs open… Brits are counting down to seeing friends and family in parks and gardens when ‘stay at home’ becomes ‘stay local’ on MONDAY (and it’ll be sunny 66F next week too)
- Outdoor gatherings including in private gardens of either six people or two households from next Monday
- Met Office forecasts highs of up to 66F (19C) next week and evenings will be longer after clocks go forward
- It comes ahead of the third stage of rules easing on April 12, which will include reopening of pubs outdoors
- Other changes next Monday include return of outdoor sports – and ‘stay at home’ ditched for ‘stay local’
It’s been a tough winter for families across Britain, unable to see their loved ones apart from a walk in a local park.
But there is now some light at the end of the tunnel, with the rule of six returning outdoors in parks and private gardens in England from next Monday – and people across the country are keen to make the most of it.
Britons have been mowing their lawns, decorating their gardens and even buying a tent in expectation for the second stage of lockdown restrictions easing, following the first that saw schools go back on March 8.
The Government has said outdoor gatherings including in private gardens of either six people – known as ‘the rule of six’ – or two households will also be allowed, making it easier for friends and families to meet outside.
There is expectation of a very good week of weather too, with the Met Office forecasting highs of up to 66F (19C) next week in southern England with high pressure building which will bring settled conditions for most areas.
Britons will also be able to make the most of longer evenings outdoors next week after the clocks go forward in the annual move from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST) this Sunday.
The long-term outlook for April is also good, with the Met Office telling of a ‘reasonable signal for generally settled weather for most’ at the start of the month with ‘drier than average and brighter conditions prevailing’.
It comes ahead of the third stage of rules easing on April 12, which will include the reopening of pubs and restaurants outdoors, non-essential shops, public buildings and outdoor attractions including theme parks.
Among those excited is Rebecca Smith, of Newport, Shropshire, who tweeted: ‘I’ve bought a tent for my garden. I’ve missed my friends and family so much. Role on next Monday, March 29 #ruleofsix. How exciting to have six people LEGALLY from six different households. It will feel like heaven and it’s time to have some human contact.’
Another Twitter user from Shrewsbury posted a picture of a covering over decking in a back garden, saying: ‘The lid’s gone back up! Just a few weeks longer folks… hold yer nerve. It’s gonna be a great spring and summer.’
And don’t forget… clocks go back this Sunday!
Britons will also be able to make the most of longer evenings next week after the clocks go forward in the annual move to British Summer Time (BST) this Sunday.
Also known as daylight saving time (DST), it began in 1916 as a way of saving electricity during the First World War by adding an extra hour of light to the day.
Experts say it can take people from 48 hours to a whole week to adjust as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) ends.
A third tweeted: ‘Who else is counting down to the rule of six? Can’t wait to see my girls all in one place!’ And Rachel Trelfa posted two pictures of a decorated garden with hanging lights, tweeting: ‘Ready for the rule of six!’
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts, and open-air swimming pools, will also be allowed to reopen from next Monday, and people will be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
But up until then the rules remain – including for this weekend – that people can only meet one other person from outside their household or support bubble socially or for exercise, and this must be away from their home.
The ‘stay at home’ rule will also end next Monday, but the Government has advised that people continue to work from home where they can and ‘minimise the number of journeys they make where possible’. The advice from next Monday will be to ‘stay local’.
Britons are also still warned to avoid travelling at the busiest times and routes, while travel abroad will still be banned, other than for a small number of exceptions such as attending a funeral of a close family member.
The Government announced on Monday that anyone trying to leave the UK ‘without a reasonable excuse’ will be fined £5,000. Ministers have launched a taskforce to review global travel which will report on April 12.
This is also the date when hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen outdoors-only, along with outdoor attractions like theme parks. Indoor hospitality is not set to return until May 17 at the earliest.
It comes as Boris Johnson last night said he would be haunted by the Covid pandemic ‘for as long as I live’.
How will lockdown be eased in the UK until end of June?
Step One Part One: March 8
From March 8, all pupils and students returned to schools and colleges across England.
So-called wrap-around childcare was also allowed to resume, paving the way for after and before school clubs to reopen.
People were allowed to meet one other person outside for recreation, for example, to have a picnic or to meet for coffee.
Care home residents were be able to have one regular named visitor.
The Government’s stay at home order remained in place, with travel for non-essential purposes still banned.
Step One Part Two: March 29
From March 29, outdoor gatherings of up to six people or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed. These gatherings will be allowed to happen in private gardens.
Outdoor sports like tennis and basketball will be allowed to reopen and people will also be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
It is at this point that the Government’s stay at home guidance will end, to be replaced by ministers encouraging people to ‘stay local’.
However, the Government is expected not to define what constitutes local, instead choosing to rely on people using their common sense to decide on journeys.
People will still be told to work from home wherever possible while international travel will still be banned unless it is for essential purposes.
Step Two: April 12
Non-essential retail will be allowed to reopen as well as personal care premises like hairdressers, barbers and nail salons.
Public buildings like libraries, museums and art galleries will be allowed to welcome back customers.
Meanwhile, hospitality venues and outdoor attractions like theme parks will be given the green light to reopen in some form.
However, there will still be rules on household mixing: Essentially any activity which involves being indoors will be restricted to members of the same household.
Gyms and swimming pools will also reopen from April 12 but only on the basis that people go on their own or with their own household.
Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen but at this point they will only be able to have customers outdoors.
The Government will not be bringing back the old requirement for people to order a substantial meal with alcohol while the old 10pm curfew will be ditched.
All customers at hospitality venues will also have to be seated when they order food or drink, with ordering at the bar prohibited.
Campsites and holiday lets where indoor facilities are not shared with other households can also reopen but trips must be restricted a single household.
Funerals will be allowed to continue with up to 30 people, while the rules on wedding receptions will be eased to allow the number of guests to increase from six to 15.
Step Three: May 17
The two household and rule of six requirements for outdoor gatherings will be ditched but gatherings of more than 30 people in places like parks will still be banned.
Crucially, mixing indoors will be allowed again. The rule of six or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed to meet.
However, this will be kept under review by ministers to see if rules could be relaxed still further.
This is also the point at which pubs and restaurants and other hospitality venues will be able to open indoors, with the rule of six and two household limit in place. But groups meeting outdoors at pubs will be allowed to be bigger.
Entertainment venues like cinemas and children’s play areas will be able to reopen, as will hotels and B&Bs. Indoor adult sports groups and exercise classes can also reopen.
Changes will also be made to sporting and performance events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half full
At a sombre press conference on the anniversary of the first lockdown, he admitted ‘many’ mistakes over the past 12 months.
But the Prime Minister said he had faced ‘very, very hard decisions’ while grappling with a ‘callous and invisible enemy’.
Paying tribute to the millions who observed three lockdowns to bring the virus under control, he said: ‘We did it together.
‘This is something that we will all remember and be dealing with in different ways for, certainly in my case, for as long as I live. It’s been an extraordinary moment in our history, a deeply difficult and distressing period.’
In reference to the death toll of 126,284, he added: ‘We’ve suffered so many losses, and for so many people our grief has been made more acute because we have not been able to see them in their final days to hold their hands, or even to mourn them together.’
Mr Johnson also pledged ‘a fitting and a permanent memorial to the loved ones we’ve lost’.
But he insisted that – with the vaccine programme rolling out at lightning speed – Britain was finally emerging from the shadow of coronavirus.
‘Cautiously but irreversibly, step by step, jab by jab this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedoms,’ the Prime Minister said.
Asked whether the objective should be to eradicate Covid or simply bring down cases to the lowest levels, Mr Johnson replied: ‘I’m not sure eradication makes sense in a globalised economy.’
And he told a behind-closed-doors meeting of Tory MPs last night that a third wave of the virus was ‘inevitable’, given rising cases across Europe.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, also acknowledged that a third wave would arrive in Britain – but it would be slowed by a ‘wall of vaccination’.
And, in a significant boost, it was reported that the Serum Institute of India is now asking for government permission to release a batch of five million AstraZeneca vaccines for export to Britain.
As Brussels prepared to publish plans today to curb vaccine exports, despite an offer of compromise from Britain:
- The PM risked inflaming the row by joking with Tory MPs that Britain’s vaccine success was down to ‘greed, my friends’ – before hastily withdrawing the remark;
- Downing Street said the roadmap for easing the lockdown remained ‘on course’, despite concerns about jab supplies and new variants;
- However, ministers were braced for a rebellion from Tory MPs on a vote tomorrow to extend Covid regulations until the end of September;
- Mr Johnson played down hopes of the ban on European travel ending on May 17;
- And he hinted that ministers were looking at fresh restrictions at the border, potentially including more testing for lorry drivers;
- The PM also pledged to make the schools catch-up programme a national priority;
- Former cabinet minister David Davis warned introducing vaccine passports was likely to be illegal on grounds of discrimination;
- A row erupted over Government plans to require all care home staff to have the vaccine.
MPs and peers in both Houses of Parliament and ministers in the devolved nations marked the lockdown anniversary at midday, while NHS and social care workers also joined the pause for reflection.
A further vigil was held last night, with millions lighting candles in remembrance of a terrible year.
The Queen reflected on the ‘grief and loss felt by so many’ as she paid tribute to the service of health and care workers in a message to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where the Duke of Edinburgh had heart surgery.
Professor Whitty acknowledged at the press conference that Britain had suffered a ‘bad outcome’ from the pandemic, but stressed that many other countries had also struggled.
He had warned earlier that the UK was not out of the woods yet, with possible vaccine shortages and the emergence of new variants both causes for concern.
‘This is a sad day, really,’ he said. ‘The path does look better than the last year but there are going to be lots of bumps and twists on the road from here on in.’
He said there would ‘definitely be another surge at some point, whether it’s before winter or in the next winter, we don’t know’.
The professor also warned of the terrible toll taken on the nation’s health by the lockdown itself. ‘For many people, physical or mental wellbeing have been very badly affected by this,’ he said.
Mr Johnson said that, armed with better information, he might have made different decisions at critical moments.
But he added: ‘For month after month our collective fight against coronavirus was like fighting in the dark against a callous and invisible enemy, until science helped us to turn on the lights and gain the upper hand.’
Meanwhile, a further 412,197 vaccinations have been administered, taking the total number who have now received at least one dose to 28.3million.
Boris Johnson said at 10 Downing Street last night that he would be haunted by the Covid pandemic ‘for as long as I live’
Official figures showed a further 112 Covid-related deaths were recorded on Monday. The weekly death toll was down by a third. Case numbers and hospital admissions also fell again.
How summer starts in April for Brits this year
More than three-quarters of Britons are marking April as the start of summer celebrations as lockdown begins to be eased, a poll has found.
Some 77 per cent of respondents said next month was now the start of summer, with most looking forward to lighter evenings (50 per cent), visiting beer gardens (41 per cent) and barbeques (39 per cent).
In astronomical terms this summer officially runs from June 21 to September 22, while meteorological summer is June 1 to August 31 every year.
The study by Scottish gin company Caorunn, in partnership with market research company Atomik, also found the drink Britons most closely associated with the warmer seasons is lager (32 per cent).
Professor Whitty said the fall in cases had ‘flattened off’ in recent days but this had ‘always been expected’ following the return of millions of children to school.
The number of deaths in England and Wales has dropped below weekly average levels for the first time in more than six months.
Figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics said the 10,987 deaths in the week that ended on Friday, March 12, were 511 fewer than the average for the time of year.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, said: ‘The new ONS data on deaths is encouraging in suggesting the second devastating wave of the pandemic is behind us.
‘The rapid decline in deaths we’ve thankfully seen is entirely because of the lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines.’
Fears of a further wave of infections increased yesterday following confirmation that another coronavirus variant had reached the UK. Three people in England have been found to have the strain – dubbed the ‘New York’ variant, according to Public Health England.
Its officials are ‘monitoring the situation closely’ and working with partners around the world to identify variants and their potential impact. Many of the cases of the B.1.526 variant have been found to contain the E484K mutation, which may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.
But health officials said the three cases of the New York variant that have so far been detected in the UK do not contain the E484K mutation, seen in South Africa and Brazil. They said that it was not a ‘variant of concern’, unlike the Kent variant which caused the latest lockdown.
A jogger runs along Tynmemouth Longsands in North Tyneisde at sunrise this morning as the weather conditions are calm
Figures released by the ONS yesterday showed that – despite the third national lockdown – unemployment has fallen, with the jobless rate dipping from 5.1 per cent to 5 per cent in the three months to January.
‘The employment picture in the UK has stabilised in recent months, supported by the extension and increased generosity of the furlough scheme,’ said Pablo Shah, managing economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
‘The scheme will continue to contain labour market damage during the remaining months of lockdown, although the fragility of the economy means that a spike in unemployment is still anticipated in the fourth quarter of 2021 when support is lifted.’
Around a fifth of the workforce – or six million employees – are still on furlough and some will not have a job to return to when the scheme ends.
The Government’s budget watchdog predicted earlier this month that unemployment would rise to 6.5 per cent by the end of the year. But forecasters at the EY Item Club downgraded its estimate from 7 per cent to 6 per cent, as has Capital Economics.
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