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Boris Johnson gives go-ahead to next stage of England’s lockdown easing

by editor

LONDON — Outdoor pubs and restaurants, gyms, hairdressers and non-essential shops will reopen in England on April 12 as the country moves ahead with the next phase of its exit from lockdown.

Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference Monday that the country is meeting its “four tests” for lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

The U.K. prime minister thanked Britons for sticking to the rules over the Easter weekend, saying: “It is clear now this is paying off. The net result of your efforts is that from Monday 12 April, we can move to step two.”

He would, he added, be visiting the pub on that date and “cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint.”

However, he urged people to act cautiously and take up vaccines when offered, warning: “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness in other countries.”

Britain’s four tests include a significant fall in case numbers; manageable capacity in the National Health Service; continued progress with its vaccine rollout; and new COVID-19 variants not fundamentally altering the picture.

The next phase of loosened restrictions will also see the number of visitors allowed to see loved ones in care homes rise from one to two, and overnight stays away from home in self-contained accommodation will be permitted. Public buildings such as libraries and community centers will also reopen.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer who appeared alongside Johnson, said: “We will have significant problems with COVID for the foreseeable future.”

Despite the green light for some sectors, Johnson’s press conference did not dispel confusion around travel restrictions and there are continued questions over vaccine passports for domestic use.

The prime minister said there was “absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification when they go to the shops or to the pub garden” from next week, and said such a plan “is not being planned for step three either.”

But he said certification could offer a “sensible” way of tackling the spread of COVID-19, with the government still working out what form such a plan could take.

Trials of COVID-19 status certification, based on COVID test results, are already set to take place for some large events from mid-April while a review on vaccine passports continues, using test status rather than proof of vaccination.

An update on the roadmap out of lockdown published alongside Johnson’s statement said certification would be “a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes,” although businesses are demanding more detail.

Lobby group the British Chambers of Commerce said the government should “waste no time in setting out concrete proposals” for how any COVID certification scheme will work, and urged it to reveal “the rationale behind the inclusion of some sectors and not others.”

“With businesses already investing significant time and money into their reopening plans, they have considerable questions around the implications of such a scheme, including the practical implementation for firms and issues of employment law and liability,” said the BCC’s Co-Executive Director Claire Walker.

The roadmap update also confirmed that England will introduce a three-tier “traffic light” system for international travel, designating countries as red, green or amber according to the level of quarantine restrictions required.

However, the U.K. government has not yet given details of which destinations will be in each category, nor has it said when the current travel ban, which runs until at least May 17, will be lifted. At present, people face a fine of up to £5,000 for leaving England without “good reason.”

The government announced earlier Monday that twice-weekly rapid testing for the coronavirus will be offered to everyone in England starting Friday.

This article has been updated to include further details on Boris Johnson’s press conference and to make clear that the changes apply to England.

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