Lockdown easing: Next steps in Northern Ireland and Wales
April 23 -
May 24, subject to review -
April 16 -
May 3 -
May 17 -
Hairdressers and beauticians will reopen in Northern Ireland today in another easing of lockdowns as Wales confirms that pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors from May 17.
Outdoor visitor attractions, hairdressers and salons will reopen in Northern Ireland today, while driving lessons will resume along with theory and practical tests.
Competitive sport will be allowed outdoors with numbers not exceeding 100, though spectators will be banned.
Arlene Foster has said the exit from lockdown will move faster if possible, with further restrictions to be lifted next week, when pubs and restaurants can serve customers in outdoors settings, in groups of six, from no more than two households.
In Wales, indoor hospitality and all tourist accommodation is expected to reopen on May 17 after Mark Drakeford added further dates to the country's coronavirus road map.
The Welsh First Minister said it would be for the incoming government to confirm the reopening, but the main opposition parties have already committed to the same date if they win the May 6 Senedd election.
Other changes expected by May 17 include reopening indoor entertainment venues and attractions, with more changes 'subject to the public health situation remaining favourable'.
The dates for indoor hospitality and tourism accommodation brings Wales in line with the reopening dates in England. Wales has the lowest level of virus infections in the UK and is third in the world in terms of vaccine delivery.
Yesterday, Mr Drakeford said: 'At the last three-week review, I set out a forward-look of how the restrictions could continue to be lifted in the weeks ahead, if the public health situation remains stable.
'It will be for the incoming Welsh Government to confirm these arrangements at the next three-week review, which will be held on May 13 - a week after the election.
'It is my assessment that the hospitality sector - bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes - will be able to open indoors from May 17, together with all other tourist accommodation, indoor entertainment and attractions.'
Mr Drakeford's indication means Welsh Labour joins the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru in pledging to reopen indoor hospitality on May 17.
He will appear at a press conference this afternoon to confirm the changes amid accusations from the Tories and Plaid that he is using the briefing to unfairly influence the forthcoming election.
Tory MS Janet Finch-Saunders said the briefing would be 'naked electioneering' and called for the chief medical officer to front it, while Plaid leader Adam Price has written to the Government's Permanent Secretary Dame Shan Morgan asking her to 'ensure parity and fair play for all'.
This morning Mr Drakeford denied that announcing the easing of coronavirus restrictions just two weeks before the election gave him an unfair advantage over opposition parties.
Mr Drakeford told Sky News: 'If I had to be announcing more difficult news today, opposition parties would be demanding that I was there making that announcement.
'I make that announcement every three weeks. I've had to do it on some very difficult days when the news has not been good.'
The First Minister said other changes to Wales' restrictions before the election meant the country will complete its move to Alert Level 3 by May 3.
Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 5 Live: 'The rates of coronavirus in Wales are now the lowest in the United Kingdom, our vaccination rates are the highest in the United Kingdom, and that has created some extra headroom for us to be able to continue what we've been doing now for quite a few cycles.
'We continue to proceed in Wales in a cautious step-by-step way. But the fact that we have these low rates is the product of that way of doing things.
Arlene Foster has said the exit from lockdown will move faster if possible in Northern Ireland. Mark Drakeford said it would be for the incoming government to confirm the Welsh easing
Hairdressers and beauticians will reopen in Northern Ireland today in another easing of lockdown. Pictured, Stag Co barbers in Hertford
It comes as coronavirus cases have fallen across the country, with cases falling in every age group in England and just 18 deaths announced across Britain yesterday
Covid vaccines WILL cut transmission: Oxford study offers more proof the jabs work with infections falling by up to three quarters after one dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca and asymptomatic silent spreader cases plummeting 57%
Vaccines will allow us to control coronavirus without the need for future lockdowns, the experts behind a major new British study declared last night.
In the biggest examination of 'real-world' UK vaccination data so far, scientists found both the Pfizer and Oxford jabs slashed infections - and reduced transmission of the virus.
Analysis of more than 1.6million swabs from UK households found that among those who had been given at least one dose of either vaccine there was a 74 per cent drop in symptomatic infections.
Crucially, the jabs also cut asymptomatic cases – where the person infected has no signs of illness – by more than 50 per cent. This is critical to stopping people unwittingly spreading Covid.
The benefits in reducing infections were similar for everyone - including the elderly and those with long-term health conditions - who are most at risk.
The protective effect was most marked among those who'd had two doses of Pfizer - which led a 70 per cent drop in asymptomatic infections, rising to 90 per cent in cases with symptoms. Similar data was not yet available for the Oxford jab.
'It's because we've done it in the way we have that we're now able to accelerate some of the decisions because the prevalence of coronavirus has fallen to the lowest extent we've seen since the summer.'
But he warned the public to remain vigilant as more freedoms are returned over the coming weeks. 'Three weeks ago the prevalence rate was 35 per 100,000,' he said.
'That's today fallen to less than half of that, it's below 15. We need now to see those numbers held up where they are.
'The more you open up society it's inevitable coronavirus will begin to circulate. So, my message to people in Wales today will be that coronavirus is not over.
'We all have to go on being vigilant. We all have to go on doing the things that make a real difference and has led us being in today's benign position.'
Mr Drakeford also said Wales was seeing the 'positive effects of vaccination', with a reduction of numbers of people becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 and needing hospital treatment.
In Northern Ireland, all non-essential retail will return, and takeaways and off-licences will have curfews lifted. Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, will be allowed to operate.
Gyms and swimming pools will reopen for individual activities. The limit on outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens will increase to 15 people from no more than three households.
More restrictions are set to be lifted on May 24, although these are subject to review.
From that date, pubs and restaurants can operate indoors, people will be allowed to gather in homes and indoor attractions can reopen. Other tourist accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs can also reopen.
Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues, after appropriate risk assessments are undertaken.
From Monday, outdoor hospitality in Wales can reopen and up to six people can meet outdoors with no limit on the number of households they can come from, not including children under 11 years of age or carers from those households.
Outdoor attractions including swimming pools, funfairs and theme parks, as well as outdoor organised activities and wedding receptions, both for up to 30 people, can also take place.
From May 3, gyms and leisure centres can reopen, and people can form extended households with one other household.
Mr Drakeford said indoor supervised activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults like exercise classes, and reopening community centres was also being brought forward from May 17 to May 3.
'The sacrifices we have made continue to show results. By us all working together and sticking to the rules, combined with our vaccination programme, mean we continue to make progress,' Mr Drakeford said.
'Rates of the virus continue to fall and the public health situation is improving.
'Due to these efforts we are able confirm more easing of the restrictions from 26 April and for early May we are again able to bring forward some of our plans.
'However, this progress is dependent on all of us continuing to work together to keep Wales safe.'
Public Health England's weekly Covid surveillance report found rates of the virus were down in all age groups for the third week in a row
Fewer than 900 people in England are now getting ill with Covid every day
Fewer than 900 people in England are now catching coronavirus every day, according to a symptom-tracking app, the lowest level ever and below estimates for August when there were next to no restrictions.
King's College London scientists estimated only 870 people suffered a symptomatic infection with the virus every day last week, based on reports from more than a million Britons.
This was the lowest number since estimates began in June, and below the previous low point in mid-August before the burdensome 'rule of six' and a flurry of other restrictions came into force.
Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads the app, said the dropping cases signalled troublesome variants had not gained a foothold, which was likely down to the successful vaccination programme - already jabbed three in five Britons - social distancing, and warmer weather allowing people to spend more time outdoors.
And in yet more promising statistics published today, Test and Trace found Covid cases fell by nine per cent in the seven days to April 14, yet another sign Britain's outbreak is still shrinking.
Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to speed-up his roadmap out of lockdown, after promising to be led by 'data not dates' when relaxing tight lockdown restrictions.
It comes as coronavirus cases have fallen across the country, with cases falling in every age group in England and just 18 deaths announced across Britain yesterday, according to promising data.
Public Health England's weekly Covid surveillance report found rates of the virus were down in all age groups for the third week in a row, despite hundreds of thousands more daily tests now being deployed across the country.
Meanwhile, the Government's Covid dashboard showed there were just 18 UK virus deaths in the past 24 hours - down 40 per cent on last week - and 2,729 infections, which was up only marginally on last week (2 per cent).
Experts claimed that, because there are so few daily Covid deaths a day now, the country's death rate could be close to zero because a portion of the victims would've passed away from natural causes anyway.
The DOH's death figure includes anyone who dies of any cause within 28 days of a positive test, meaning patients who succumb to cancer, suffer a heart attack or get hit by a car within four weeks are counted.
Oxford University professor Dr Jason Oke said that when a lot of people are swabbed - about a million per day at the moment - and test positive, some of them will inevitably die naturally of causes 'unrelated to Covid'.
Professor Karol Sikora, an expert in medicine at the University of Buckingham, told MailOnline the Government's 24 average Covid deaths per day had the potential to be 'significantly' lower.
Official figures show about a quarter of Covid deaths are people who died 'with' the virus, rather than directly 'from' it.
But other scientists said even patients in which Covid was not their underlying cause of death, the virus probably 'made their last days much more uncomfortable, or even shortened their life by a substantial amount'.
Meanwhile, a raft of other statistics revealed Covid is no longer the leading cause of death in England and Wales for the first time since October, and the number of people falling ill with the virus is at its lowest level on record.
Office for National Statistics figures showed the virus was the third biggest killer in March, accounting for 4,387 out of a total 48,551 deaths (9 per cent) - behind dementia and heart disease (both 10.1 per cent).
Covid deaths have dropped even further in April because of the huge vaccination roll-out and effects of lockdown restrictions.
Scientists behind Britain's biggest Covid symptom-tracking study said fewer people than ever are falling sick with the disease. The team at King's College London estimated 870 people developed Covid each day last week in England - the lowest since estimates began in June.
A report from No10's Test and Trace programme found positive Covid tests continued to fall by 9 per cent in the seven days to April 14 - despite a huge boost in testing.
The data will pile more pressure on Boris Johnson to release the country from lockdown sooner, with the next relaxation not due for almost another month.
Mr Johnson has promised to stick to 'data, not dates' but has so far refused to budge on his rigid schedule, despite vanishingly Covid low deaths and fewer than 2,000 people in hospital.
Tory MP Mark Harper, chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, told MailOnline: 'As we have said throughout the pandemic, it's crucial that we ensure that restrictions, lockdowns and regulations are doing more good than harm.
'With the NHS' vaccination rollout going so well, and the data showing clearly that it is having the desired impact on serious illness, hospitalisation and death, the case for keeping these significant restrictions in place for two more months is weakening by the day.
'I really hope ministers start trusting the data, believing in vaccines and release restrictions in line with the data, rather than sticking to arbitrary dates. One person's abundance of caution is another's redundancy notice.'
THIRTY countries from Israel to Iceland could be on UK's 'green list' for holidays when international travel restarts on May 17
The ban on foreign holidays is on track to be lifted on May 17, Downing Street said last night, with travel opened up to as many as 30 countries.
Covid laws mean anyone caught taking a foreign holiday before the end of June currently faces a £5,000 fine.
But No10 said ministers were now confident the ban will be lifted on May 17 – the most optimistic date set out in Boris Johnson's roadmap for easing the lockdown.
The ban on foreign holidays is on track to be lifted on May 17, Downing Street said last night, with travel opened up to as many as 30 countries. Pictured: Saint Lucia in the Caribbean
There has so far been no sign of the feared spike in Covid cases since the reopening of shops, gyms, hairdressers and outdoor hospitality last week – which could have derailed the roadmap.
Asked about the May 17 target, the PM's official spokesman said: 'There is nothing in the data that suggests we need to change the dates.'
A final decision will be made early next month.
But Paul Charles, boss of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said he expected up to 30 countries to be considered 'green' destinations – not requiring travellers to quarantine upon return.
Israel (pictured is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) and some Caribbean islands are among the countries most likely to be named on the initial 'green list'
Iceland (blue lagoon in Iceland) is also among the countries that is most likely to be named on the list
Hopes of an early return for foreign holidays were boosted after the EU indicated UK residents would be exempt from a travel ban because of this country's high vaccination rate.
Israel, Iceland and some Caribbean islands are among the countries most likely to be named on the initial 'green list' next month.
The Commons transport committee yesterday urged ministers to name the 'green list' by May 1 to give firms and families time to plan.