Yesterday the Prime Minister set out the four steps to lifting the restrictions which we have all had to live with to prevent the spread of coronavirus, protect the NHS and save lives.
The first step is rightly the reopening of schools on 8 March 2021. This will be supported by mass testing to make sure that both teachers and pupils are safe. I firmly believe that it is vital for our children’s education and wellbeing that they return to school.
The return to schools will be followed on March 29 with the return of the Rule of Six outdoors, including in gardens, and the reopening of outdoor sports facilities. After this, nonessential retail, outdoor hospitality and individual indoor leisure will reopen in step two no earlier than 12 April.
Steps three and four will follow at five-week intervals, providing the evidence shows it is safe to do so. Indoor entertainment and the Rule of 6 for indoor gatherings will return in step 3 alongside organised indoor sports. Finally, it is hoped that by June 21st the overwhelming majority of restrictions will be lifted, and our lives will be able to return to normal.
At the core of this roadmap is the success of our vaccine programme. I have seen for myself how well this has been done in Rugby, both as a volunteer and as someone who has received the first dose of the vaccine at Locke House. I want to thank all those who have volunteered their time and skills. Their efforts have enabled us to achieve the Government's ambitious target to offer all those in the top four priority groups their first jab by 15 February 2021. To date, 17.5 million people have had the vaccine including 20,000 here in Rugby. This is an achievement of which we can all be proud.
The evidence show that the vaccine is helping to protect the most vulnerable and reducing the number of hospitalisations and deaths. This must be the last lockdown, and I support the Prime Minister's goal for the lifting of restrictions to be irreversible. To achieve this, it is right that we lift restrictions cautiously as the vaccine is deployed.
Whilst I know that many people, including myself, would want to see the next stages of restrictions lifted sooner, I think that it is right that we do take a cautious approach so that we can avoid having to reimpose restrictions later.
I know that the past year has been exceptionally difficult. With this clear roadmap and the success of the vaccine deployment, I am confident that the end is now in sight. As we move through the steps the Prime Minister has set out, it is vital that we continue to obey the rules, stay safe and save lives.