UPDATED: As case rates plummet and vaccinations continue rapidly, England will begin easing lockdown from March 8, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Monday.
Schools will open from March 8 in phase one of the easing, and some organized adult outdoor sports activities will resume from March 29 in phase two.
Drive-in cinemas will reopen from April 12, while cinemas and theaters will reopen from May 17, with social distancing in place. That date will also see audiences being allowed back into live sporting events. June 21 is when the Prime Minister hopes that the economy would be fully reopened.
Johnson’s roadmap is dependent on four conditions: that the vaccination program continues apace; evidence that vaccinations are reducing deaths and hospitalization; infection rates do not cause another surge in hospital admissions; and new variants of the virus don’t affect the easing of restrictions.
The provisionally confirmed dates mean that the release of Marvel’s “Black Widow,” due to open May 7, will lose out on more than a week of box office.
The U.K.’s Theatres Trust has welcomed the provisional reopening dates. “Theatres Trust welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcement of a ‘not before’ date of 17 May for theatres to reopen with social distancing and capacity limits, but we recognize that this will be subject to the COVID data nearer the time,” said the organization’s director Jon Morgan. “We also recognize that this means that many theaters, who cannot operate viably with lower audiences under social distancing, will need to wait longer before reopening.”
In phase one of the opening, two people from different households will allowed to meet for a sit-down picnic outdoors, while in phase two, outdoor gatherings of six people or two households are permitted. And from May 17, groups of 30 will be allowed to mingle.
The easing will be “cautious and irreversible,” Johnson said. “We are setting out on what I hope and believe is a one way road to freedom.”
From March 29, people will be allowed to travel out of their areas, though the guidance is stay local as much as possible, and overnight stays will be discouraged. The film and television production industry is not affected by this, as it has been permitted to operate through the various lockdowns, under strict COVID-safe protocols.
“Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to travel to their workplace. This covers all aspects of the film and television production process, including scouting and recces,” states the British Film Commission’s protocol document. It includes travelling for work purposes within England and internationally. Staying in a hotel for work purposes is permitted. Filming can continue to take place in the premises of businesses that are closed to the general public due to the lockdown. This includes work on films and television programs.”
The U.K. government aims to administer every adult aged 50 and above with the first dose of the vaccine by April 15 and every adult in the country by July. A third of all adults in the country have already received their first doses.
9,834 coronavirus cases were recorded in the U.K. on Sunday, with 215 deaths, a vast reduction from the January highs of 60,000 average daily infections and 1,500 deaths.
The devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own set of restrictions and easing schedules, which are expected to hew closely to the ones in England.