LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday praised the “great spirit” shown by Britain in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and struck a cautious note of optimism about the lifting of restrictions, as he marked the first anniversary of the UK’s stay-at-home lockdown.
In reference to what has been declared a National Day of Reflection in the UK, the prime minister hailed the “great spirit” shown by the nation through the “most difficult year” in the country’s history amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 126,411 people and infected more than 4,301,000 individuals.
“The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and I offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Today, the anniversary of the first lockdown, is an opportunity to reflect on the past year – one of the most difficult in our country’s history,” said Johnson, 56, in reference to the year that also saw him test positive for coronavirus and hospitalised for treatment.
“We should also remember the great spirit shown by our nation over this past year. We have all played our part, whether it’s working on the front line as a nurse or carer, working on vaccine development and supply, helping to get that jab into arms, home schooling your children, or just by staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.
“It’s because of every person in this country that lives have been saved, our NHS was protected, and we have started on our cautious road to easing restrictions once and for all,” the UK prime minister added.
His message came as the government set out its so-called “Roadmap Regulations” as the legal framework for lifting the coronavirus lockdown in phases, with June 21 expected as the date for a complete easing of restrictions on gatherings and household mixing – imposed as a measure to control the spread of the deadly virus.
The latest measures mean from March 29 outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed including in private gardens. A full review will then be conducted in advance of moving to Step 2 of the Roadmap, which will be April 12.
“These measures have been vital to reducing infections, hospital admissions and deaths across the country, and thanks to peoples’ commitment and support, we have made strong progress,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“We are rightly ending as many national measures as safely as possible, while maintaining those which remain necessary and proportionate to help reduce and control infections further as we cautiously but irreversibly ease restrictions and our historic vaccination programme continues apace,” he said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the roadmap out of lockdown is “cautious, but irreversible”.
Alongside the Roadmap regulations, the government has also published a review of the Coronavirus Act ahead of a vote in Parliament, which sets out 15 measures which will be expired or suspended after Easter recess in early April as they are no longer essential to the national response to Covid-19.
It explains which measures of the Act will be retained and how they will help to support businesses and individuals, shore up capacity in the health and care service and ensure delivery of essential public services.
The DHSC highlighted that the emergency Act ensured the National Health Service (NHS) had the capacity to deal with the peak of the virus by allowing the temporary registration of nurses and other healthcare professionals.
It provided courts with the ability to use video technology and it allowed the government to put in place support packages such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, which have provided a source of income for families and a lifeline for many businesses.
It has also enabled businesses to access loan schemes, which have provided over 72 billion pound of support to businesses with over 1.5 million loans approved.
The regulations laid out this week will be voted on by Parliament on Thursday, and if approved, will replace the “All Tiers” regulations which were made to enact the tiered system of lockdown at the end of last year. The temporary measures within the Coronavirus Act require a renewal vote every six months as part of the government’s legal requirement to properly scrutinise coronavirus legislation.