'Stay home' message soon to end as next lockdown easing nears
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
In little over a week, England will take its next small step along the government's 'roadmap' towards the full lifting of lockdown.
It all began on March 8, when schools reopened to all pupils and other, smaller changes were made, like allowing one designated person to visit a family member in a care home and the resumption of wraparound childcare.
That was step one of the roadmap, which will also include further changes come into play from March 29.
What changes from March 29?
Outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed to meet, including in private gardens.
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This has been timed with the week that most school children will break up for Easter school holidays, to allow them to see family members from whom they have been apart for a long time.
Outdoor sports facilities will also be allowed to reopen, meaning people will have more options than simply walking, running or cycling for their daily exercise.
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It means businesses like tennis centres, golf clubs and gyms with outdoor facilities will be able to welcome some customers back once again.
And organised sports can resume too, although there is no guarantee competitions like Sunday league football will resume so close to the summer.
Do I still need to stay home and stay local?
The stay home order will be coming to an end from March 29, while the rules around how far someone can travel to see someone will also be relaxed.
The word 'local' in the government's guidance has never been specifically defined, causing confusion for many who have been unsure how far they can go from their homes to exercise.
It has generally meant staying within your city, town or village where possible, but this will change from March 29.
At this point there will be no punishment for people who, for example, drive for a couple of hours to visit family or friends outside, and then return on the same day.
People will still be encouraged to minimise travel where possible, though, and overseas travel remains banned unless it's for work or another very good reason.
Guidance to work from home wherever possible will remain in place.
Is it definitely going to happen?
Yes. Although these things are changing three weeks after the first easing of lockdown, it is still all part of step one of the government's roadmap.
This means the criteria which must be met before the government gives the green light to go ahead with each step of the roadmap do not apply for the changes on March 29.
The next set of changes is pencilled in for April 12, which marks the beginning of step two.
This means the government must be satisfied the vaccine rollout is on track, evidence continues to show vaccines are reducing hospitalisations and deaths, infection rates do not threaten to overwhelm the NHS and no new variants are changing the risks posed by Covid-19.
If all those criteria are met, then from April 12 non-essential retail, hairdressers, beauty salons, libraries and community centres will all be able to open their doors again.
In addition, indoor leisure facilities like gyms and swimming pools will open for people on their own or with other members of their household bubble.
Pubs, restaurants and cafés will be able to serve people in outdoor spaces – but customers must be seated when they order, eat and drink.
The numbers able to attend commemorative events like weddings, receptions and funerals will rise.
And self-contained accommodation like holiday lets can reopen, making it easier for people to take a domestic holiday.
And after that?
Step three will come in no earlier than May 17, and includes most social contact rules being lifted outdoors and the rule of six possibly being extended to apply to indoor gatherings.
And the largest outdoor venues, like Norwich City's Carrow Road, will be able to host up to a quarter of its capacity – though the Championship season is scheduled to have ended by that point.
Step four is the final part of the roadmap, when it is hoped all legal limits on social contact can be removed, along with restrictions on large outdoor gatherings and events.
If all goes to plan, that will happen on June 21.