The Prime Minister’s announcement to the House of Commons this afternoon has been met with a cautious welcome by Devon’s Director of Public Health, and Devon County Council’s Leader and Cabinet Member responsible for schools.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of steps, a roadmap, to Ministers today (Monday 22 February), in which he sets out the principles of transition out of lockdown.
From 8 March, pupils and students in all schools and further education settings will return to face-to-face teaching, supported by twice-weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils.
From that date, people will also be able to meet one person from outside their household for outdoor recreation, such as a coffee on a park bench, in addition to exercise.
People identified as being Clinically Extremely Vulnerable are however advised to continue shielding until at least the end of March.
And every care home resident will be able to nominate a named visitor, able to see them regularly provided they are tested and wear Personal Protective Equipment.
From 29 March, the Rule of Six will return outdoors including in private gardens. Outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted. And outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts will be able to reopen.
From 29 March, people will no longer be legally required to stay at home, but people should continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel wherever possible.
Non-essential retail, hairdressers, indoor leisure facilities such as gyms, as well as holiday-lets for use by individuals or household groups, will reopen no earlier than 12 April, and even then subject to the latest data first satisfying certain conditions. Pubs and restaurants will be able to to re-open from that date too.
Restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, no earlier than 17 May, subject to a limit of thirty people, and groups of no more than six people or two households will be able to meet indoors.
From that date, pubs and restaurants will open indoors, as will hotels, hostels and B&Bs.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon said:
“While all of us look forward to a relaxation of the national regulations, it’s vital that we continue to exercise caution.
“COVID-19 is an extremely infectious virus, and is still very much present in the community. Cases in Devon have remained relatively low compared to elsewhere in the country and we do not want to see cases rising again.
“As restrictions start to ease, we must therefore remain absolutely resolute in adhering to the national public health measures – keep our social distance, wear face coverings whenever indoors in a public place, and to wash our hands regularly.”
Devon County Council’s Leader, Cllr John Hart, said:
“I know that many parents will be delighted that schools are to open up and we are working with heads and their staffs to ensure that is done as safely as possible across Devon.
“For people who have endured this worst of lockdowns, the Prime Minister’s road map will provide some real hope along with the hugely successful vaccination programme.
“Families who haven’t seen each other for months will be able to get together, friends will be able to meet for a coffee or go for a walk.
“I’m afraid that it looks as though our tourism and hospitality operators will miss Easter – the traditional start of the season – but at least they now have something to aim for and I know many have said when they open this time, they don’t want to have to close again.
“But hospitality and our other businesses, such as retail, which have been so hard hit by the pandemic will still need support and I look to the Budget next week to address this, including an extension of the furlough scheme.
“Devon County Council and our partners in Team Devon will do all we can to support our businesses and provide the right climate for them to recover and thrive.
“And I would urge every resident in Devon to continue to abide by the rules and keep our county’s infection rates as low as they have been so far.”
Speaking of the return to school for all pupils on 8 March, Cllr James McInnes, the County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for education, said:
“Our schools have been open for key worker families and vulnerable children throughout the pandemic. Staff have been doing a tremendous job catering for their needs at the same time as providing home schooling for their other children and this has meant considerably more work.
“I am pleased to see that there will be an opening of schools for all pupils and we are working with headteachers to ensure this will be done as safely as possible. It is vital for children to get back to classroom learning for their educational development but also for their wider social and mental wellbeing.
“The vaccination programme is going extremely well in Devon and nationally and, once again, I repeat my call for school staff to be vaccinated as soon as is humanly possible.”