UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the roadmap out of lockdown is still on track, despite a third wave of COVID hitting European countries.
Speaking to the Conservatives' virtual spring forum, the PM said there was nothing in the data to dissuade him from "continuing along our roadmap to freedom."
But Johnson was cautious and warned that while Britain is in "a different world from last spring" there was a need to be "honest about the difficulties ahead."
On the rising infections in the EU, the PM said that while it's still unclear what impact it will have "bitter experience" shows that it could take a wave like the one in the continent to hit the UK "three weeks later."
It comes after the government announced on Friday that non-essential retailers will be given extended opening hours to help businesses recover and customers to shop safely.
Under the new rules from 12 April, following months of being shuttered, businesses will be able to stay open from 7AM until 10PM from Monday to Saturday.
Housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick said that local councils will be asked to avoid "unnecessary restrictions" on hours.
Business groups have "welcomed" the announcement of longer opening hours.
Dominic Curran of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: "Retailers have invested hundreds of millions in making their stores COVID-secure, implementing additional hygiene measures, perspex screens, social distancing and more."
The PM set out a four stage roadmap to guide England out of lockdown in February. Stage one saw schools reopen on 8 March as well as allowing people to meet with one person outdoors.
Under stage two which is due to come into effect on Monday 29 March, the stay at home order will be lifted, outdoor gatherings will be allowed with the return of the rule of six.
More restrictions are due to be relaxed on 12 April, 17 May and 21 June — when the country is expected to go back to "normal life" depending on health data and vaccine rollout success.
Boris Johnson has said that foreign travel can resume no sooner than 17 May (depending on daily data and the success of the vaccine programme). Before then, on 12 April, a taskforce will produce a report which will recommend how international trips can resume for people in England.
Johnson said he was looking forward to being able to visit the barber "in a few days time" as well as going for a pint at the pub, to "unlocking" the economy and "getting back to the life we love." Shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality venues are expected to reopen, from 12 April.
He also paid tribute to the work of the "heroes" involved in the UK's vaccine rollout success, calling the "fastest rollout of a vaccine this country has ever seen" an "incredible scientific breakthrough."
On Saturday, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced people aged over 70 could start receiving COVID booster jabs from September to protect them from new strains.
The first booster vaccines will be given to those in the top four priority groups of the inoculation programme, he told the Telegraph. Zahawi also confirmed that the UK is considering drive-thru vaccine sites to persuade younger people to take the jab.
Official figures show that over 29 million have received a first dose of the COVID vaccine, but only 2.7 million people have had the second jab.
The UK is currently using two vaccines, the Oxford/AstraZeneca (AZN.L) jab and the Pfizer (PFE) and BioNtech (BNX) vaccine. A third one, developed by Moderna (MRNA) has been approved by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
On Friday, the foreign minister of France accused Britain of “blackmail” against the EU, adding to the ongoing coronavirus vaccine row between the UK and the bloc.
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