Pubs, haircuts, gyms must wait as UK lifts lockdown slowly
LONDON (AP) — United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday was setting out a road map for lifting one of Europe’s strictest national lockdowns — but the millions of Britons eager for a haircut or an evening out still face a long wait.
Johnson is expected to announce a plan to ease coronavirus restrictions in increments, starting by reopening schools in England on March 8.
People will be allowed to meet one friend or relative for a chat or picnic outdoors beginning the same day.
Three weeks later, people will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six and amateur outdoor sports can resume.
But restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are likely to remain closed until at least April.
The measures being announced apply to England.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have slightly different lockdowns in place, with some children returning to class in Scotland and Wales on Monday.
Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 120,000 deaths.
Faced with a dominant virus variant that scientists say is both more transmissible and more deadly than the original virus, the UK has spent much of the winter under a tight lockdown.
Bars, restaurants, gyms, schools, hair salons and nonessential shops are closed, people are urged not to travel out of their local area and foreign holidays are illegal.
Hopes for a return to normality rest largely on Britain’s fast-moving inoculation program that has given more than 17.5 million people, a third of the country’s adult population, the first of two doses of vaccine.
The aim is to give every adult a shot of vaccine by July 31, and to protect the over 50s and the medically vulnerable by getting them a first vaccine jab by April 15.
But the government cautions that the return of the country’s social and economic life will be slow.
Johnson’s Conservative government was accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockdown in the spring and of rejecting scientific advice before a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown in the fall.
It does not want to make the same mistakes again, although Johnson is under pressure from some Conservative lawmakers and business owners, who argue that restrictions should be lifted quickly to revive an economy that has been hammered by three lockdowns in the last year.
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