Boris signals road ahead as he announces lockdown easing, driven by “data” not “dates”

Boris Johnson at Speller Metcalfe. Image Credit- AFP

Business leaders across the region have welcomed the roadmap out of lockdown – but warn that firms in the region will still need more support to survive the Covid-19 crisis.

Business West Managing Director Phil Smith said:“Many of our companies will have been disappointed by this roadmap.

“It certainly does not give many of them real hope of surviving the next few months – particularly in the hospitality sector where so many restaurants and nightclubs will not be open until June.  This means that support for hospitality businesses in particular will be so important for the Chancellor when he presents his budget next Wednesday.

“We must now have a meaningful extension to the furlough scheme, perhaps with some training and re-training commitments included.

“I have to say that I am hopeful this support will be forthcoming from the Treasury as the Prime Minister promised business: “We will not pull the rug out”.

“That gives struggling companies some hope that they can hang on with further furlough support. We also hope that Rishi Sunak can also extend the business rates holiday for companies.

“For business, the return to school of all children on 8 March will be a huge boost for their employees who have had the difficult burden of home schooling.

“What we saw today was a cautious Prime Minister who was intent on not falling into the trap of overpromising and not delivering.”

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “There is no doubt that this has been the most difficult year for businesses across our region, with some sectors being even hit harder than others.

“It has been a huge challenge for the Government to get the balance right and those in business will welcome the sentiment that this should be the final lockdown and will, therefore, support the cautious reopening of the economy based on the data at the time.

“However, that optimism will be short-lived for many businesses if they run out of cash between now and when they are able to reopen. The Prime Minister mentioned that the Budget would see further announcements on support for businesses and we would urge the Chancellor to extend schemes such as furlough and business rates holidays to give companies breathing space.

“Further to that, we have to a plan of support for when the economy does reopen as, for many firms, it won’t simply be a case of flicking a switch as so many have lay dormant for a big part of the past year.

“Finally, it’s on all of us – local, regional and national Government as well as business – to work together to develop a roadmap for our young people, whose education and health and wellbeing have been so drastically affected over the past 12 months so that they have support for skills, mental health and wellbeing and, crucially, jobs.”

Sharon Smith, CEO Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The roadmap to recovery should give businesses hope that this latest lockdown will indeed be the last that they will face. This longer-term plan is something that many businesses have been pleading for and should provide confidence, stability and encouragement.

“With the budget statement next week, it will provide government with an opportunity to expand on details of the financial support structure for businesses. With many businesses having to wait until April, or even longer in some cases before they can re-open, the support they are being provided and a longer-term plan is vital.

“An extension to the business rates relief, possible extension of the furlough scheme and the VAT cut for hospitality businesses all should be areas of key consideration.”

In an address to Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the timeline when restrictions could be gradually lifted but said the easing of lockdown would be guided by data not dates.

While students will return to schools & FE colleagues on March 8th, along with students on university courses requiring practical teaching, lockdown restrictions will remain and people should continue to work from home, and other HE students should continue learning online for the moment, according to Boris’s latest announcement.

From 8 March, people will also be able to meet one person from outside their household for outdoor recreation – such as a coffee on a bench or a picnic in a park – in addition to exercise.

From this point, 29 March, people will no longer be legally required to stay at home and the “Rule of Six” will return outdoors, including in private gardens and outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted on the same basis, but many lockdown restrictions will remain.

This is Step 1 of easing out of lockdown he said.

Step two will begin at least five weeks after the beginning of step one and no earlier than 12 April, with an announcement at least seven days in advance.

If analysis of the latest data against the four tests requires a delay, then this and subsequent steps will also be delayed to maintain the five week gap.

In step two non-essential retail will reopen, as will personal care including hairdressers and nail salons, he added. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will re-open, as will holiday-lets, but only for use by individuals or household groups. And pubs and restaurants outdoors.

Zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas will re-open as will public libraries and community centres.

Step three will begin no earlier than 17 May.

Boris said: “Provided the data satisfies the four tests, most restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, subject to a limit of thirty. And this is the point when you will be able to see your friends and family indoors – subject to the Rule of Six or the meeting of two households.

We will also reopen pubs and restaurants indoors along with cinemas and children’s play areas, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs. Theatres and concert halls will open their doors, and the turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue. And we will pilot larger events using enhanced testing, with the ambition of further easing of restrictions in the next step.

Step 4 will begin no earlier than 21 June.

With appropriate mitigations, we will aim to remove all legal limits on social contact, and on weddings and other life events. We will re-open everything up to and including nightclubs, and enable large events such as theatre performances above the limits of step 3, potentially using testing to reduce the risk of infection.”

 

Four tests

First, that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully;

second, that evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths;

third, that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS;

and fourth, that our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern.