Published: 15:54, 22 February 2021
| Updated: 08:43, 23 February 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his roadmap out of lockdown and called it a "one-way road to freedom".
Schools will reopen on March 8, with twice weekly testing, and after-school sports and activities will be allowed to restart.
Socially distanced one-to-one meetings with others outdoors in public spaces, such as for a coffee, will also be allowed. Care home residents can have a single visitor, provided they are tested and wear PPE.
From March 29, the rule of six will return and a new measure allowing two households to meet outdoors will be introduced.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts and open-air swimming pools are also set to reopen at the end of next month.
Organised adult and children’s sport – including grassroots football – can also return.
People should continue to work from home and minimise travel where possible.
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In step two, from April 12, non essential retail will reopen, including personal care such as hairdressers. Gyms will reopen, as will holiday lets, for individuals and household groups only.
Pubs will start to reopen outdoors and there will be no curfew and no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal. Zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas will reopen, along with libraries.
Step three will begin no earlier than May 17. Most restrictions on meeting outdoors will be lifted, to a limit of 30 people. Meeting indoors will be permitted, subject to the rule of six.
Pubs and restaurants will be opened indoors, along with hotels, children's play areas, theatres, concert halls and crowds will be able to attend sports events, depending on size of venue.
Step four will start no earlier than June 21. Weddings will be permitted and night clubs will be allowed to reopen, with larger events also given the go ahead.
Mr Johnson told the nation in a press conference this evening: "We are now travelling on a one-way road to freedom."
In response to a question about his comment on the roadmap being "inreversible" he confirmed he cannot guarantee this but that is the intention.
Professor Chris Whitty confirmed numbers of cases and death are falling but remain high. Data released today shows vaccination is reducing hospitalisation in older people by more to 70%, he said.
He added that coronavirus will be with us for the next few winters and it should be seen as something we have to live with like flu and pneumonia.
Earlier Mr Johnson stressed there needed to be five weeks between each stage of easing lockdown.
Prof Whitty explained this period is needed so scientists can study enough data on the impact easing lockdown is having before easing of measures continues.
Mr Johnson told MPs earlier: "The threat remains substantial with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave in April.
"We are able to take these steps because of the resolve of the British public and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating more than 17.5 million people across the UK."
He warned that no vaccine could ever be 100% effective and added: "We cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and, sadly, more deaths.
"This would happen whenever lockdown is lifted, whether now or in six or nine months because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccines. There is no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain or indeed a zero-Covid world.
"We cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy our physical and mental wellbeing and the life chances of our children.
'We are setting out on what I hope and believe is a one-way road to freedom and this journey is made possible by the pace of the vaccination programme...'
"That is why it is so crucial that this road map should be cautious but also irreversible. We are setting out on what I hope and believe is a one-way road to freedom and this journey is made possible by the pace of the vaccination programme."
The return to the classroom will be a welcome relief for some parents struggling to juggle working from home and homeschooling.
But education bosses have raised concerns we are heading for a repeat of the start of term in September last year.
Executive head of Fulston Manor in Sittingbourne and chair of the Kent Association Headteachers, Alan Brookes, said: "I think returning then is a high risk strategy. The idea of bringing everyone back at the same time has practical consideration and health considerations to so that's our sticking point.
"Of course we are desperate to have children back to school but it's got to be done safely and permanently. We do not need a situation where they come back on March 8 and then three or four weeks down the line there are closures again. That would be catastrophic.
We speak to headteachers about the plans to reopen schools safely
"Vaccinations would have made a big difference. It would have been possible over the half term break in a single day to vaccinate all those people who work in schools across the country.
"That would have been a huge reassurace for staff and enabled more staff to return on March 8. There is a worry that a lot of staff are shielding and schools will be reopening with nothing like a full compilation of staff.
"Nothing has gone in to schools that has made them safer than they were previously.
"I hope it works but it would have been more prudent to stagger it over several weeks."
Jay Atkins, who runs Core The Gym in Maidstone, said: "When you put so much into a business and so many people have continued to support us we really wanted to have something to celebrate and actually while we now have a date it still isn't confirmed.
"Until they can categorically confirm we can reopen nothing really changes.
"We need to put our opinions aside and have faith in what we are being told. I believe we are ready to reopen but until the data is reviewed none of us really know.
"Previously we reopened without a hitch and are members were fantastic in the steps they took."
Under the roadmap gyms are set to reopen on April 12 at the earliest.
Elizabeth Moody, who runs Adventure Kidz soft play area in Aylesford alongside partner Andrew, said: "I'm glad there is now a route out but I'm not sure why we have to wait until May 17 when facilities like gyms can reopen in mid April.
"I can't believe more was not said about how we are going to be financially supported. Business owners in this position are at an all time low.
"It is disappointing that parents and children have been left at the bottom of the list yet again."
She added that VAT needs to be kept at 5% and business rates stopped for the next year in order for businesses like hers to recover.
Ahead of his Commons address, Mr Johnson said: “Today I’ll be setting out a road map to bring us out of lockdown cautiously.
“Our priority has always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing, and we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.
“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe.
“We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan.”
Ministers will assess the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, new variants and infection rates before proceeding to the next step.
The tests are currently being met, Downing Street said, allowing the first relaxation to take place on March 8.
But now that one in three adults in the UK have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Mr Johnson will face pressure from some Tory MPs to ease measures more quickly.
Analysis by political editor Paul Francis
After a weekend of selective leaking, Boris Johnson got to say what everyone knew already about his route map out of Covid-19.
Was he holding back anything? It didn’t seem so as he led MPs through the various steps that he hoped would, by June, mean the ending of any restrictions and a return to some kind of normality.
If it sometimes appeared a little confusing, then that is probably because it was. It certainly lived up to its billing as cautious, with the PM perhaps risking the irritation of some of his own MPs in the manner of a motorist hogging the middle lane and refusing to budge.
There were some inconsistencies, with the government happily clearing the way for tens of thousands of pupils to be thrust back into the classroom and mingle at close quarters - at the same time as reinforcing a new version of the rule of six, limiting the number of people permitted to gather in one place.
Full re-opening will be heavily dependent on tests at schools and in the home. Secondary school children will be expected to be tested twice a week at home under the government’s arrangements. These will be voluntary, thereby avoiding the excuse that the dog ate their test results.
As to the emphasis on the journey out of the pandemic being irreversible? Not quite, it seems. There is still some wiggle room for the measures to be halted, with the threat of re-imposing restrictions should there be a resurgence in infections in particular areas. So, there is a reverse gear somewhere, probably encased in a box with the instruction ‘only to be used in irreversible emergency’.
Perhaps the most striking statement from the PM was his admission that the new regime could not be expected to eliminate the virus completely and there would be further deaths along the way.
Still, he ended optimistically saying the route map would lead the country towards an unarguably better year than the last. It was, he insisted, a one-way journey. Just not one which is taking us to the final destination in the fast lane.