Today marks the final step in the roadmap out of lockdown. It has been a long 16 months in which we have all had to make a tremendous amount of sacrifice. Today is a major milestone for the country, taking us another step closer to the life we all used to live.
The Prime Minister was very clear when he set out his roadmap earlier on in the year that we would only move on to the next step if we had passed four tests: a considerable reduction in deaths and hospitalisations; infection rates not risking a surge in hospitalisations; no new variants of concern; and the successful deployment of the vaccine. The roadmap has guided our approach to how we have eased restrictions on the basis of data, not dates. It was precisely for this reason that the move to Stage 4 was delayed. By giving ourselves that four-week pause, we have been able to get more jabs in arms, bolstering our protective wall further. 7 million extra doses have been administered in that time and every adult has been offered a first dose of the vaccine.
Today brings an end to most legal restrictions including the 2-metre rule and the limits on the number of people you can meet. No longer will people be instructed to work from home if they can, nor will face coverings be mandatory. All remaining closed businesses and venues such as nightclubs and entertainment venues will be able to reopen. All capacity limits at sporting, entertainment, and business events will be lifted and table service will no longer be a requirement at hospitality venues.
Although most legal restrictions have lifted, this is not the end of the road: it is the start of a new phase of continued caution. Face coverings will still be recommended in crowded areas such as public transport and close contact with others should be limited if possible. Businesses and employers will still be expected to mitigate against risks and to follow the principles set out in the working safely guidance.
I have had a number of constituents get in contact with me over recent days to share their concerns over the lifting of restrictions. I have explained to them that while there is no perfect time to relax the existing restrictions, moving to step 4 today means relaxations coincide with the end of the school term and take place over the summer when more activities can take place outdoors and pressures on the NHS are less significant than in the autumn and winter months.
As the Health Secretary said during his statement to the House last week: “To those who say, “Why take this step now?”, I say, “If not now, when?.” There will never be a perfect time to take this step because we simply cannot eradicate this virus. Whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away.”
Today’s step forward is about balancing the harms caused by COVID, with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring. Now is about managing the risks with what we know, continuing with caution and taking personal responsibility. Our testing capabilities will still play a huge role and people will still be expected to self-isolate when positive or instructed to do so. Vaccination is incredibly important. I urge those who haven’t to come forward and get the jab. It is the best line of defence we have against coronavirus.
Going forward, I can assure you that I will monitor the situation in our area closely. My fortnightly meetings with our local public health officials will continue throughout the summer and beyond, providing a regular opportunity for us to examine the data and feed back to my Ministerial colleagues where appropriate.