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World

UK PM sets out cautious approach to easing England's COVID lockdown

  • Johnson announces roadmap out of lockdown.
  • Schools in England to reopen from March 8.
  • UK has 5th worst COVID death toll in world.
  • Speedy vaccine roll-out key to lockdown easing.
22 Feb 2021

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a phased plan on Monday to end England's COVID-19 lockdown, offering a "cautious" approach to try to prevent a return to wholesale restrictions that have hobbled the economy.

Johnson, under pressure to allow more freedoms to millions of people stuck at home and offer hope to shuttered businesses, said the first stage would prioritise schools returning on March 8 when only minimal socialising outdoors would be allowed.

The so-called roadmap would then pass through four stages, with five weeks in-between, and the final step, when most restrictions would be lifted, not starting until June 21 at the earliest.

"The threat remains substantial", Johnson told parliament, saying it was crucial the roadmap was cautious but irreversible.

"We're able to take these steps because of the resolve of the British public and the extraordinary success of our NHS (National Health Service) in vaccinating more than 17.5 million people across the UK."

With almost 130,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world's fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its $3 trillion economy has seen its biggest crash in over 300 years.

But Johnson said the fast start to the vaccine roll-out plus a sharp fall in infections can now set out a cautious easing of England's tough national lockdown, which started on Jan. 5.

As the plan unfolds, lawmakers will have a chance to vote on specific steps. Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are responsible for their own public health, will also ease restrictions over the coming months.