Boris Johnson will this afternoon set out his ‘roadmap’ for opening up the country. We are expecting schools to be open from March 8th, with two people from different households allowed to meet up for recreation (so you can sit down for that picnic). March 29th should see the return of the rule of six, with six people from up to six households able to meet up outside, and outdoor sports facilities will reopen. Big questions remain over all other things that could make life feel a bit more normal: when you can get a haircut; grab a pint; sit down for a cheeky Nandos; or meet up with another household indoors. The PM will be in the Commons at 3.30pm to deliver a statement to MPs before giving a Covid briefing this evening.
Richard Burgon has penned a piece for LabourList calling on Johnson to set out a wider strategy, alongside the vaccine rollout, to prevent infections spiralling again. This is especially important since the lockdown has so far been the decisive factor in driving down new cases, hospitalisations and deaths this year. Burgon has put forward a number of questions that the PM must answer this afternoon: How low will virus levels be driven before we open up fully again? What is Downing Street going to do to fix test and trace? What new financial support will there be for people to isolate into the future? How will the PM ensure that the cases are driven down in the most deprived areas? What is his plan for the safe opening of schools and to avoid repeating past errors?
Keir Starmer has tentatively backed the plans to get all children back into schools on March 8th, liberally applying use of the word “ideally” both in his interview with Sophy Ridge on Sunday and on LBC this morning. This follows the warning from nine education unions – the Association of School and College Leaders, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, the National Governance Association, Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, Unison and Unite – that sending all children back in one go would be a “reckless course of action”. The Labour leader said today he does not think there should be industrial action but added that the unions are “right to stick up for their members who have been through a really difficult time”.
‘Caution’ is the watchword from Labour today. Starmer urged Johnson to “learn the lessons of the last two lockdowns” in his LBC ‘Call Keir’ session this morning and told listeners that “businesses desperately need more support”. The opposition has this morning demanded that the Chancellor extend temporary business rates relief for six months immediately, and not wait for the Budget next month, to “save over 1,800 theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas and help our high streets”. Labour has also called on the government to expand eligibility for the £500 isolation payment to anyone without access to workplace sick pay. Around 70% of people who apply for the financial support, according to data from half of England’s councils published earlier this month, are rejected.