The plans are an attempt to kick-start the British economy and ease the societal pressures of lockdown without triggering a dangerous resurgence of the virus.
The roadmap will be underpinned by four key “tests” that are linked to data, which will act like a checklist that must be met before moving onto the next step of reopening.
The four tests are: the vaccine roll-out is going as planned; vaccines are effective in bringing down deaths and hospitalisations; case numbers are not rising so fast that the NHS risks being overwhelmed; new variants do not create unforeseen risks.
The third test has triggered early debate, because rising cases alone will not be enough to stop reopening. That will happen only if rising cases risk overwhelming hospitals.
The four steps are separated five weeks apart. That leaves four weeks to monitor the impact of the preceding step and one week to give people notice.
The reopening is designed to happen uniformly across England, so there is no return to the Tier system.
Below are the four steps of the roadmap. The dates are the earliest dates at which the next step could happen, with delays possible if the data takes a negative turn.
The first step is split into two sections. The focus is on getting schools open again and reuniting families who have spent so long kept apart.
All schools in England will open, both primary and secondary. It is possible some schools may initially stagger class returns because of the demand for mass testing.
The specifics of mass testing will be worked out over the coming fortnight, with testing both at school and at home likely to feature. Pupils will be expected to wear face masks in the opening weeks.
School sports will also return, both indoor and outdoor. So pupils of all ages can get back to playing football and doing PE lessons. Schools can set their own rules.
‘Wraparound’ childcare will be allowed to resume, which means after school sports and extra curricular clubs can take place.
March 8 will also see a change in care home rules. Residents will finally be allowed to have a single visitor. That individual can visit repeated times rather than the trip being a one-off.
The visitor and care home resident will be allowed to hold hands, but other close contact is not allowed. The visitor must get a Covid-19 test beforehand and wear protective equipment.
This date also sees a small change to the rules for when people can meet one-on-one outside in public spaces.
Currently that was only allowed for exercise. From Mar 8, that will be allowed for socialising, so a coffee on a park bench or one-on-one picnic will be allowed.
The outdoor socialising rules change. Six people from six different households are allowed to meet outside, meaning the so-called ‘rule of six’ returns. Alternatively, two households can meet outside. This means two families, who potentially together total more than six people, will be allowed to meet. This can happen in both outdoor public spaces and in back gardens.
The ‘stay at home’ guidance will be dropped. There will also be a significant loosening in how far people can travel to see someone outside.
While people will still be encouraged to minimise travel, there will not be punishments for someone who drives a few hours for a meet-up outside, then returns that day.
Outdoor organised sports for both adults and children will also return. This is for both socially distanced sports like golf and tennis and team sports like football, so Sunday league and five-a-side will return.
Indoor sports will still be off limits. Also the sports must be organised, so a large group of people cannot gather to kick around a football if it breaks the number limits explained above.
All non-essential shops will be allowed to open. People may be urged to only go in alone rather than as an entire household.
Pubs and restaurants can open again but only outside, so pub gardens and outdoor dining will be back. Groups can gather, but with the same limits as above: either up to six people or two households.
There will be no curfews or any requirement to serve a meal with alcohol, removing the scotch egg saga of last year. Pubs will be allowed to serve takeaway pints.
Staycations will be allowed, in a limited form. One household will be allowed to stay overnight somewhere in the UK, but not with another household.
‘Self-contained accommodation’ will be available to rent, so for example cottages or Airbnb rentals or campsites. However hotels and B&Bs cannot reopen. Hairdressers and nail salons will be allowed to open.
Outdoor hospitality venues like zoos and theme parks can also open. The limit on the maximum number of attendees at weddings and wakes will also rise from six to 15.
There will be no change for funerals, to which 30 attendees are already allowed. Gyms can also open but you cannot attend with people outside of your household, because indoor socialising is barred at this point. Gym classes are not yet allowed.
Groups of up to six people and two households will be allowed to meet indoors, so people can enter each other’s homes from now.
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, stated on Feb 23 that loved ones may be able to hug each other from mid-May, although people must remain “cautious” until this date.
Pubs and restaurants can open indoors. It is unlikely there will be strict requirements on capacity, but it must be table service.
Hotels and B&Bs can open in step three,as can indoor sports and gym classes.
Entertainment venues can open too, including cinemas and theatres. New rules will be in place for different sizes of venues.
Normal outdoor events can open for up to 4,000 people or 50 per cent of the venue capacity, whichever is smaller.
Similarly normal indoor events can open for up to 1,000 people or 50 per cent capacity, again whichever is lower.
For huge outdoor seated venues there is a special limit. Up to 10,000 attendees will be allowed or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is lower.
This means, for example, Wembley Stadium will be able to open with 10,000 fans attending.
Weddings, receptions, wakes, funerals, and other life events like Bar mitzvahs and christenings will be allowed to be attended by up to 30 people.
This will be as close to normal as possible.
There will be no attendance limits on weddings and funerals.
Big venues that were unable to open last year, such as nightclubs, can finally reopen.
Many of the details for what can happen now is dependent on a number of reviews.
There are four reviews that have been commissioned that sit below the roadmap. They are designed to find answers that right now the Government feels it cannot give.
Each has a ‘complete by now’ date, meaning we know when to expect clarity but not what the review will decide or if it will lead to a change in the rules.
One review is looking at international travel. It will see whether with vaccine certificates and testing the border can be more open than it is now.
This must conclude before step three on May 17 by could report back in April. That means – theoretically at least – the borders could be relaxed in time for summer holidays.
However there is no guarantee the current rules, which bar anyone from travelling overseas for holiday, will be lifted after the review, meaning summer holidays abroad are not guaranteed.
A second review will look at social distancing measures. These include the keeping of two metres apart outside (or ‘one metre-plus’ inside), wearing face masks and being encouraged to work from home.
That review is due to report back before stage four, which is Jun 17. In other words, do not expect to be told to go back to work in an office until the summer at the earliest.
A third review will look at Covid vaccine certificates being used domestically. This is interesting as Government ministers had previously played down that possibility.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that Michael Gove has tasked in leading a review into the use of ‘vaccine passports’, in which the “deep and complex issues” surrounding the introduction of immunity certificates will be examined.
It is understood that the Government remains concerned about the implications of such steps and will weigh moral and ethical implications of any moves like this. It will report back by step four, which is Jun 17.
The fourth review will look at large events. It will attempt to work out when it is safe for large events to be held again. It too will report back by step four, so Jun 17.
Pilots for big outdoor events will be allowed to take place from April.