Britain’s leader outlines a cautious plan to reopen England.

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is expected to confirm on Monday that schools in England will reopen on March 8 and that people will be allowed to socialize outdoors on March 29, the first steps in a long-awaited reopening plan after a nationwide lockdown prompted by a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.

Mr. Johnson’s “road map” is intended to give an exhausted country a path back to normalcy after a dire period in which infections skyrocketed, hospitals overflowed with patients, and the death toll surged past 100,000. At the same time, Britain rolled out a remarkably successful vaccination program, injecting 17 million people with their first doses.

That milestone, combined with a steep decline in new cases and hospital admissions, paved the way for Mr. Johnson’s announcement. But the prime minister has emphasized repeatedly that he planned to move slowly in reopening the economy, saying that he wanted this lockdown to be the last the nation had to endure.

Under the government’s plan, pubs, restaurants, retail shops, and gyms in England will stay closed for at least another month — meaning that, as a practical matter, daily life will not change much for millions of people.

“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step,” Mr. Johnson said in remarks issued by his office Sunday evening, “and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far.”

The specific timetable will hinge on four factors: the continued success of the vaccine rollout; evidence that vaccines are reducing hospital admissions and deaths; no new surge in infection rates that would tax the health service; and no sudden risk from new variants of the virus.

Mr. Johnson is to present the plan to Parliament on Monday afternoon and to the nation in an evening news conference, along with data that is expected to show how the vaccination program has affected the spread of the virus. That will end days of speculation.

But it is likely kindle a new round of debate about whether the government is easing restrictions fast enough.

With pubs and restaurants not expected to be allowed to offer indoor service until May and attendance at sporting events not permitted before June, some members of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party are likely to revive their pressure campaign to lift the measures more quickly.

Mr. Johnson, however, appears determined to avoid a repeat of his messy reopening of the economy last May after the first phase of the pandemic. The government’s message was muddled — workers were urged to go back to their offices but avoid using public transportation — and some initiatives — like subsidizing restaurant meals to bolster the hospitality industry — looked reckless in hindsight.

By November, cases were climbing again, and the government reluctantly announced another lockdown. Britons went through further mixed signals before Christmas when Mr. Johnson pledged to relax restrictions so families could celebrate together, only to pull back amid a new surge in infections.

In January, after a variant first detected in Kent, in southeastern England, had spread like wildfire through the country, Mr. Johnson hastily imposed an even tougher nationwide clampdown, ordering people to stay at home, except for essential activities. Schools that had reopened after the holiday were abruptly closed again.

On Monday, Mr. Johnson will address at least that issue.

“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 well-being,” he said in the remarks released by his office. “We will also be prioritizing ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.”

Source: Read Full Article