UK’s Johnson hopes schools in England can reopen on March 8
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated Wednesday that the coronavirus lockdown in England will remain in place until at least March 8 as he ruled out any imminent return to school for most students.
In a statement to lawmakers, Johnson also confirmed new restrictions for travellers arriving in England from countries where the government thinks there is a risk of known variants of the coronavirus.
He said the U.K. remains in a “perilous situation” with more than 37,000 patients hospitalised with COVID-19, nearly double the number during the country’s previous peak in April.
While dashing hopes of a return to classrooms after a mid-February school break, Johnson cautioned that the March 8 target is an aspiration dependent on progress on the vaccination front and ongoing reductions in the prevalence of the virus in the community. He said a “roadmap” for the “gradual and phased” easing of the lockdown will be unveiled in the week commencing Feb. 22.
“The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms,” he said.
England’s schools are closed to all students bar those deemed to be vulnerable and children of key workers, such as doctors and delivery drivers. The same applies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Johnson said he hoped that by Feb. 15, the four most vulnerable groups, including those over the age of 70 and nursing home residents, will have gotten a first vaccine jab that would give them a level of immunity within three weeks.
“We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday, March 8 with other economic and social restrictions being removed thereafter as and when the data permits ” he said.
Johnson’s announcement points to shops selling non-essential items and pubs and restaurants remaining closed until well into March at least.
Given travel bans are already in place for these countries, the quarantine measures will largely apply to British residents, who will also have to pay for their hotel stays.
“They will be met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine,” he said.
In addition, he said anyone leaving England will be asked the reasons behind their trip and will be instructed to go home if they do not have a valid reason. Under lockdown restrictions, holidays abroad are not allowed. He said discussions are taking place so the rules apply across the U.K.
Johnson has come under renewed fire for his handling of the pandemic, specifically for consistently being too slow in making tough decisions.
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