health

Exclusive: Families will be able to meet again next month

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The Prime Minister will reveal his roadmap for how the nationwide lockdown will start to be lifted - Geoff Pugh/AFP via Getty Images

The Prime Minister will reveal his roadmap for how the nationwide lockdown will start to be lifted

Families will be reunited, all schools will return within weeks, and care home residents will be allowed visitors under plans to ease Covid restrictions being announced by Boris Johnson on Monday, The Telegraph can reveal.

The move will be revealed in the Prime Minister's roadmap for how the nationwide lockdown will start to be lifted.

Two different households will be allowed to meet outside by Easter – allowing groups of relatives to finally catch up in gardens or parks – thanks to the lifting of rules that stop two household groups from gathering outdoors.

Relatives who live far away from each other may have to wait a little longer, however, because it is unclear when guidance telling people to remain in their local areas will be lifted.

A senior Whitehall source said: "What the public is longing for more than anything is seeing family members and loved ones. It's been a very long time and a difficult year."

Number 10 is concerned about the impact lockdown has had on families kept apart from each other, with Mr. Johnson talking about the mental "strain" of restrictions this week.

It comes as promising new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of people infected with Covid had dropped by 30 percent in a week and the virus 'R' rate had fallen again.

On Friday, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, raised hopes of Easter "staycation" holidays, saying he was looking at whether hotels and B&Bs with "self-contained" accommodation could open.

The new analysis also suggests hairdressers and non-essential shops in England could start being opened towards the end of next month if cases continue to drop at the current rates.

But The Telegraph understands social distancing rules that say people should keep two metres apart when outside is likely to remain in place for "months".

The reopening roadmap has been closely guarded by Number 10, with Cabinet ministers handed numbered paper copies at meetings to be returned before leaving.

Mr. Johnson will seek approval from the Cabinet for the plans on Monday before announcing them to Parliament, with a televised press conference expected later that day.

All schools in England, both primary and secondary, are expected to be allowed to open on March 8 – the date the Prime Minister had earmarked for possible reopening.

However, that does not guarantee that all pupils will go back that day because some schools may choose to stagger class returns as they carry out mass testing when the gates reopen.

The principle that all schools would return at once was objected to by a coalition of nine education unions and professional bodies on Friday.

Calling for a "phased return", the groups, including the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders' union, and the National Education Union (NEU), described the prospect of all pupils coming back to classrooms at once as "reckless".

The Guardian, citing education sources, reported that Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, had also expressed opposition to a "big bang" reopening of schools.

The paper reported that Prof Whitty was "very unhappy" with the idea of all 10 million children and staff returning to schools in England on March 8. Government sources countered the claims, telling the paper he had no reservations over the policy.

From March 8, there will be changes to the care home visit rules, with each resident allowed to name one person to become a regular indoor visitor. The individual selected will be required to have a Covid test before visiting, wear personal protective equipment during the trip, and avoid close contact.

However they will be allowed to hold hands with the resident – a degree of human contact barred under the current rules – and return for multiple visits.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: "I know how important visiting a loved one is and I'm pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.

Ben Riley-Smith

Sat, 20 February 2021, 7:25 am

The Prime Minister will reveal his roadmap for how the nationwide lockdown will start to be lifted - Geoff Pugh/AFP via Getty Images

The Prime Minister will reveal his roadmap for how the nationwide lockdown will start to be lifted - Geoff Pugh/AFP via Getty Images

Families will be reunited, all schools will return within weeks and care home residents will be allowed visitors under plans to ease Covid restrictions being announced by Boris Johnson on Monday, The Telegraph can reveal.

The move will be revealed in the Prime Minister's roadmap for how the nationwide lockdown will start to be lifted.

Two different households will be allowed to meet outside by Easter – allowing groups of relatives to finally catch up in gardens or parks – thanks to the lifting of rules that stop two household groups from gathering outdoors.

Relatives who live far away from each other may have to wait a little longer, however, because it is unclear when guidance telling people to remain in their local areas will be lifted.

A senior Whitehall source said: "What the public is longing for more than anything is seeing family members and loved ones. It's been a very long time and a difficult year."

Number 10 is concerned about the impact lockdown has had on families kept apart from each other, with Mr Johnson talking about the mental "strain" of restrictions this week.

It comes as promising new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of people infected with Covid had dropped by 30 per cent in a week and the virus 'R' rate had fallen again.

On Friday, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, raised hopes of Easter "staycation" holidays, saying he was looking at whether hotels and B&Bs with "self-contained" accommodation could open.

 

New analysis also suggests hairdressers and non-essential shops in England could start being opened towards the end of next month if cases continue to drop at the current rates.

But The Telegraph understands social distancing rules that say people should keep two metres apart when outside are likely to remain in place for "months".

The reopening roadmap has been closely guarded by Number 10, with Cabinet ministers handed numbered paper copies at meetings to be returned before leaving.

Mr Johnson will seek approval from the Cabinet for the plans on Monday before announcing them to Parliament, with a televised press conference expected later that day.

All schools in England, both primary and secondary, are expected to be allowed to open on March 8 – the date the Prime Minister had earmarked for possible reopening.

 

However that does not guarantee that all pupils will go back that day because some schools may choose to stagger class returns as they carry out mass testing when the gates reopen.

The principle that all schools would return at once was objected to by a coalition of nine education unions and professional bodies on Friday.

Calling for a "phased return", the groups, including the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders' union and the National Education Union (NEU), described the prospect of all pupils coming back to classrooms at once as "reckless".

The Guardian, citing education sources, reported that Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, had also expressed opposition to a "big bang" reopening of schools.

The paper reported that Prof Whitty was "very unhappy" with the idea of all 10 million children and staff returning to schools in England on March 8. Government sources countered the claims, telling the paper he had no reservations over the policy.

From March 8, there will be changes to the care home visit rules, with each resident allowed to name one person to become a regular indoor visitor. The individual selected will be required to have a Covid test before visiting, wear personal protective equipment during the trip and avoid close contact.

However they will be allowed to hold hands with the resident – a degree of human contact barred under the current rules – and return for multiple visits.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: "I know how important visiting a loved one is and I'm pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.

 

"This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down to allow greater visiting in a step-by-step way in the future."

Mr. Johnson and his Cabinet have stressed throughout this week that the lifting of restrictions will be "cautious" in the hope that it can be "irreversible", with no more lockdowns. While the Prime Minister's roadmap will name some dates, they will be the "earliest" ones and could be delayed further if Covid surges again.

During a round of interviews on Friday, Mr. Drakeford said Wales could potentially reopen its tourism industry around Easter and that B&Bs and hotels with room service could be included as long as the accommodation is self-contained.

He told the PA news agency: "We will use the same definition as we did last year. We reopened the tourism economy starting with self-contained accommodation last year, and I think the industry made a real success of that."

Government sources declined to speculate on whether something similar could happen in England, stressing it was too early to make such decisions.

Some 481,300 people living in England had Covid in the week ending Feb 12, according to ONS estimates – down from 695,400 a week earlier.

The ONS also estimated that the 'R' rate – the number of people an infected person will pass coronavirus to – was at 0.6 to 0.9 for the UK, compared to 0.7 to 0.9 in the previous week. The lower range of the estimate has never been lower than 0.6 since scientists began producing it in May.

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