Boris Johnson's roadmap for emerging from the pandemic shows us quite how bad his sense of direction has been at times over the past few months. The Prime Minister and his colleagues in government have repeatedly insisted that they won't be introducing vaccine passports — but today's document confirms that ministers are in fact establishing a programme of work on 'Covid status certification', which is a rose by another name. Johnson has also had to deal with a conflict between his advisers (and within his own mind) over whether or not it is — as he has repeatedly suggested — possible to vaccinate one's way out of this lockdown.
Either way, the roadmap is here, and it sets out a far more cautious approach than many Conservative MPs on the sceptical wing of the party will be comfortable with. The good signs of the effects of the vaccines on transmission will, as James says here, lead to more pressure from the party to speed up the timetable.
This is how things are currently set to unfold.
There will be intervals of five weeks between each step as it takes four weeks for the measures to have an effect. This means that the next easing will take place if the data supports it.
From 8 March, people will still be instructed to stay at home, but schools and colleges will reopen, along with practical higher education courses. Face coverings should be worn in all indoor environments including schools unless two metre social distancing is possible. People will be allowed to meet one other person from another household for recreation as well as exercise. Wraparound childcare will be permitted, and funerals of up to 30 people, with wakes and weddings limited to six.
No earlier than 12 April and at least five weeks after Step 1. Still no household mixing indoors. All retail, outdoor attractions such as zoos, libraries and community centres, personal care premises and outdoor hospitality will reopen.
Indoor leisure such as gyms will open for individual or household group use. People will be able to stay away from home within the same household, and all children's activities and indoor parent and child groups of up to 15 parents will reopen. Wakes and wedding receptions will widen up to 15 people. People will still be instructed to work from home if possible, minimise travel and not take international holidays.
No earlier than 17 May and at least five weeks after Step 2. Indoor entertainment and indoor sports will reopen and a 30 person limit will apply outdoors. Outdoor entertainment such as performances can start along with some large events with capacity limits. The rule of six will now apply to indoor mixing. People will be able to travel overseas.
At this stage, the government will update its advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging. People will be encouraged to 'make informed personal decisions' and 'consider the risks for themselves, taking into account whether they and those they meet have been vaccinated or are at greater risk'.
No earlier than 21 June and at least five weeks after Step 3. Legal limits on social contact will lift and larger events allowed. Nightclubs will reopen.
One of the lines that stands out from this document is the one about hugging. It will not be until at least mid-May that ministers set out whether people can hug their friends and family. But will it be the case that by then, enough people will have been vaccinated and sufficient vestiges of normal life are returning that many are already relaxing and furtively hugging one another anyway?
It isn't clear whether the scientific advice has taken account of the potential for this kind of fatigue. It also isn't clear when people will be allowed to stop wearing face masks, with the roadmap merely saying that a review before Step 4 will 'help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on one metre plus, face masks and other measures may be lifted'.
This will surely be something that Tory MPs will become increasingly agitated about as the weeks wear on — along with whether or not ministers are being overly cautious with the timetable they have published today.