This 'will be England’s last COVID lockdown if eased cautiously', says vaccines minister

Ross McGuinness
·3 min read

Watch: Nadhim Zahawi tells Sky News it's important to make the easing of lockdown "sustainable"

The current national coronavirus lockdown should be England’s last, a government minister has said.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said there shouldn’t be a need for another nationwide lockdown if this one is eased cautiously.

His comments came as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his plan later on Monday for exiting the lockdown.

The prime minister is expected to announce later on Monday that all schools in England can reopen from 8 March, when outdoor recreation with one other person will also be permitted, meaning people could sit down together in a park for a coffee, drink or picnic.

The next phase of the government’s plan would see outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households, including in private gardens, permitted from 29 March.

Organised outdoor sport for adults and children could also return from that date.

Britain's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, Nadhim Zahawi, who has responsibility for the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, reacts as he waks along a street in Westminster in London  on December 2, 2020 as England emerges from a month-long lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19. - Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, announcing a rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech's jab from next week in a major advance for humanity's fightback against the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said this lockdown in England could be the last. (AFP via Getty Images)

Johnson is expected to say that four tests must be passed before progressing to each stage of lockdown easing: the vaccine programme continues successfully; evidence shows vaccines are reducing deaths and those needing hospital treatment; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospital admissions, and new variants do not change the risk of lifting restrictions.

The prime minister is scheduled to lay out his plan for taking the country out of lockdown to MPs before leading a news briefing at 7pm.

Zahawi told Sky News on Monday the most important thing is to make the lockdown easing “sustainable”.

He said: "I am confident that if we do this cautiously and we do it based on the data and evidence, it will be sustainable, and it will be the last time we enter a lockdown because of COVID-19."

Zahawi said the focus of easing lockdown restrictions was a “steady as she goes” approach.

Asked if travelling distances to see family would be permitted from 29 March, he said: “As long as it’s outdoors, and it is two families, or the rule of six, then that is what will be permitted if the four tests continue to be delivered upon.

“The focus is very much on the steady-as-she-goes.

"Outdoor versus indoor, priority being children in schools, second priority is obviously allowing two people on 8 March to meet outside for a coffee to address some of the issues around loneliness and of course mental health as well.

“And then the 29th is two families or rule of six coming together and outdoor sporting activities as well.”

He said the road map was about the “gradual reopening of the whole of England” rather than a regional lifting of restrictions.

Asked if the tier system would return, he told LBC Radio: “I think because the way this new variant actually took hold, which has become the dominant variant, the Kent variant, in the United Kingdom, infection rates around the country pretty much rose to similar, very high, unsustainable levels.

“So the view is very much that this is about a gradual reopening of the whole of England, not regional.”

Watch: Vaccine rollout 'beginning to bear fruit,' says minister