UK Outlines Plans To Ease Lockdown, Resume Travel

Filed Under: Travel

Despite the risk of new coronavirus strains, overall there’s a lot of optimism out there. For example, here in the US coronavirus cases are way down, and deaths are also starting to decrease significantly (though with a lag of several weeks, as you’d expect).

On top of that, those most vulnerable are largely being vaccinated, which gives many of us hope that there will be some semblance of normalcy within the next few months.

The UK has been in lockdown since early January

While the US hasn’t had any sort of a national lockdown, other countries have. The UK has been in lockdown since early January of this year, in the process banning any sort of non-essential travel (though these restrictions haven’t been very well enforced).

Well, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today outlined plans to reopen. The current easing of restrictions is specific to England, though I imagine Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, may align policies over time.

On the plus side, I appreciate the general concept of a timeline by which things might reopen. Unfortunately the timeline is pretty grim, and this all represents the “best case scenario.”

The UK’s roadmap to reopening

The UK government’s plan includes four steps. With each step certain activities will once again be possible.

Step 1 will take place as of March 8 and March 29, 2021, and will include the following once again being allowed:

  • Schools and colleges
  • Recreation or exercise outdoors with one other person
  • Childcare
  • Funerals (up to 30 people), wakes (up to six people), and weddings (up to six people)

After that the timeline becomes a bit iffier. Step 2 will take place at least five weeks after Step 1, and no earlier than April 12, 2021. With Step 2, the following will once again be allowed:

  • Indoor leisure (including gyms)
  • Two households can meet outdoors
  • Outdoor attractions
  • Libraries and community centers
  • Personal care premises
  • All retail
  • Outdoor hospitality
  • All children’s activities
  • Domestic overnight stays at households
  • Self-contained accommodation

Step 3 will take place at least five weeks after Step 2, and no earlier than May 17, 2021. With Step 3, the following will once again be allowed:

  • Indoor entertainment and attractions
  • 30 person limits outdoors
  • Domestic overnight stays
  • Organized indoor adult sport
  • Most significant life events (up to 30 people)
  • Remaining outdoor entertainment, including performances
  • Remaining accommodations
  • Some large events with 25-50% capacity limits
  • International travel, subject to review

Step 4 will take place at least five weeks after Step 3, and no earlier than June 21, 2021. With Step 4, virtually all restrictions would be lifted, including the following:

  • No legal limits on social contact
  • Nightclubs
  • Large events
  • No legal limit on all life events

As you can see, those in the UK will be allowed to travel internationally again no earlier than May 17. And to be clear, that’s the absolute best case scenario, and that also doesn’t necessarily mean that the UK’s quarantine for foreign visitors would be eased at all.

It’s expected that on April 12, 2021, the UK’s Global Travel Taskforce will provide an update on plans for international travel resuming — both Brits being able to travel abroad, and those from abroad being able to travel to the UK.

Bottom line

The UK has outlined how it plans to ease restrictions, following the country going into lockdown in early January. The UK will significantly ease travel restrictions around May 17 at the absolute earliest, though it may end up being much later than that.

There has been a huge drop in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the UK, and on top of that the country is doing quite a good job with vaccinations, only trailing Israel and the UAE in terms of per-capita vaccination.

I know many are growing impatient with the UK’s current lockdown. At times lockdowns almost feel like airline fuel surcharges — they’re added when the situation is extreme, but then are rarely removed when circumstances change. Obviously maintaining the lockdown will help keep cases low, though at what cost? At least that’s the argument…

What do you make of the UK’s reopening plans?

  1. England. Not the UK 🙂

    The announcements made are for England only. Other UK nations have their own laws

  2. Every time I read one of these stories about the UK, or elsewhere in Europe that this level of restrictions, I immediately think about about the people in the US complaining about “lockdowns”. Truly have no idea what they are complaining about…

  3. “For example, here in the US coronavirus cases are way down, ” yea I wouldn’t get excited about that at all. Massive winter weather storms across the country have shut down testing centers in a number of states. So people can’t say cases are way down. We simply aren’t testing at the same levels. Not to mention the variants that are popping up. I think people are getting way ahead of themselves when talking about the US numbers and its dangerous because people will act like its over and go out and spread covid all over again. Until people are vaccinated the risk for another surge is quite high and states like Florida are basically breeding grounds for all the variants due to their lack of restrictions. They just had the Brazil variant show up there.

  4. Things appear to be getting better because of the lockdowns, and because people have been restricted from traveling and from gathering. As soon as the lockdowns are eased, as soon as people begin traveling and gathering again, the COVID spread will spike once again. Then there will be more lockdowns and restrictions. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    The virus spreads when people let down their guard. Same here in the USA. It’s a pandemic because people refuse to take it seriously (until and unless they are forced to).

    Expect this to continue.

  5. The USA just passed the half-million-covid-deaths milestone today. That’s more than all the US soldiers killing in WW1 + WW2 + Vietnam.

    Yeah, we’re doing great!

  6. @ Bobo Bolinski — At the same time, cases are similarly dropping in the US, with virtually no travel restrictions and no federal lockdowns. Heck, in Florida everything is at capacity (which I absolutely don’t support), and cases are still going way down. I’m not saying the lockdown is or isn’t a good idea, though I just wouldn’t go so far as definitively saying that cases would go way up if travel were allowed, or if there weren’t a full lockdown.

  7. I just wish they would clarify what countries they are going to include in “international travel”.
    Will they let American’s in if we are vaccinated? Soon, we should know if vaccinated people can spread it but the early evidence is showing that if you are vaccinated you can’t spread it. We have plans for Europe and hope we can go but know we might not be able to. I would like to include London and have held that time slot open but I need clarification pretty soon.

  8. “which gives many of us hope that there will be some semblance of normalcy within the next few months”

    2021: Hold my beer!

    Things won’t get back to any sense of normal (whatever that means anymore) until 2022 at the very earliest so stop getting your hopes up.

  9. It’s been a tough year in the UK and the vaccination programme has been a huge success, often questioned by the rest of Europe but now proving it is world leading. Here’s to having a bottle of Krug in F ASAP.

  10. England will look like the world’s clown if case and death rates continue to fall with their “not earlier than” dates. Well, Canada might be right up there with them.

    Viruses run out of steam all of the time. this would probably have happened to covid but is being accelerated by vaccines and the number of people that have been exposed to the virus and have some level of immunity.

    We have no idea how many people haven’t died of other diseases over the past year because those causes of death aren’t reported hourly around the world – but it is certain there have been far fewer deaths than for other reasons. In a country the size of the US (over 300 million people), a half million deaths due to covid in a year is a fraction of the normal number of deaths per year. There were likely some deaths that were ‘pulled forward’ because of covid which will result in lower death rates for the next couple years – assuming all else is normal.

    International travel will be back for a very pent up summer season, even if it will be heavily leisure oriented, in some parts of the world that are willing to let the science speak.

  11. I live in London and it’s frankly alarming how it’s not even regulation to wear masks in public. You only have to wear it when you enter a SHOP, and only 60% of people do. When I’m walking on the street (rarely go out but sometimes I need to run errands) it really bothers me how out of maybe 100 people on the street only 3-5 people are wearing masks.

  12. The US let 500,000 people die because they didn’t restrict movement, didn’t lock down. The UK was late, confused and ineffectual with its lockdowns, and promoted spreading the scores by encouraging people to eat out last summer and 121,000 people died.

    Meanwhile in Australia more people have died fishing off that rock in port Kembla (5) this year than have died of coronavirus. Lockdowns and travel restrictions save lives.

    I really shouldn’t feed the troll Tim Dunn, but Tim Dunn, look at excess mortality rates. Fewer people have not been dying during this time, more people have. Currently UK excess mortality is running at 40%, to spell this out, 40% more people are dying than in the equivalent period in previous years.

  13. @ Tim Dunn,

    Nobody lets the “science speak” quite like you do. Perhaps you should email the New Zealand Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) office at [email protected] and see if Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will hire you as her Covid advisor to inform her of how she can improve upon her and her Country’s awful job of containing the virus and wrecking her economy. Apparently her fellow citizens were too stupid to think for themselves when they re-elected her by a landslide last October. If she declines you, maybe the Australian PM will hire you for your expertise. New Zealand, Australia, and those other countries who have contained the virus need your expertise to figure out how to open their economies up properly.

  14. @John – transmission is occurring inside, primarily among family members/guests who are unmasked and in contact for extended periods of time. Transmission in an outdoor setting is minimal. You are not going to be exposed to enough viral load to contract the disease walking down the street.

  15. Of the top 10 reporting countries of deaths per million, all are in Europe except the USA. They come in at number 7. The UK is number 4. Belgium is first. Sweden, which had no material lockdown at all, is at number 18.
    If the first and second and third lockdowns had no effect, let’s have another. Maybe it will be different this time.

  16. Or ya know, since the CDC has now effectively claimed that testing caught 1/10 cases, we are very close to being on the greener side of this. Lucky- how can you simultaneously vilify Florida and maintain a positive tone about the trajectory of this? Florida has handled adeptly, protected the seniors, and allowed people to make a living and keep the business and passion alive. In New York, Boston, Philly, LA generational business are gone, and the local watering hole will be a chain. At a certain point, your safety is a personal decision, draconian society-wide policy will fail, people with pushback

  17. It looks by May vaccine passport/app should be ready in UK and highly likely will be necessary for international travel. IATA app will be ready by March. I do believe vaccinated people will be able to travel from mid May / June. Obviously travelling will be restricted by entry rules of any country ( Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China look hopeless for a very long time ) but Europe and USA should open by Summer – for vaccinated visitors. The numbers are getting better, vaccines work very well and Spring/Summer weather helps as well. I guess Israel will be a great indicator too.

  18. @David – really? Because I went to a band rehearsals inside (no masks) and I was feet from the singers. We had friends over for dinner and drinks a few times. My friend met with several of her friends for walks in the park during lockdown, and other chats without masks over the past few months. Yet nothing. We were careful with whom we met with, and were aware of their other interactions. Negative tests for all.

    @Will – THANK YOU!! Florida is usually the hot mess state, yet for this…perfectly executed.

    @John – Then you must have passed me in the street ;-). Stop preaching, and stay home. I did not wear a mask ever on the streets of London, and none of my friends do either.

    I also checked into a hotel for 2 nights in London, and it was lovely and quiet. Masks yes (most of the time).

    My long-haul flight out of LHR was fairly empty. 3 of us in First. 5-10 in J, and no idea about Y (but I barely saw anyone at the gate).

    So many people on their high horses, still. Oh dear 🙂 Live in fear if you must, but I say no thanks to that.

    These symptoms are real, but not what they have told you. No one on here wishes to hear anyway lol. I do look forward to the end of March though.

  19. The US and England have selfishly hogged the world’s available vaccines; maybe the improved results are due to that fact as opposed to voluntary changes in lifestyle (hardly any, it appears). Boris gins up anything you can throw at him so don’t be fooled. Rep or Dem, America is ME, ME, ME. A moral failure on part of these two ‘beacons of civilization’. As for Israel, it has injected nearly 50% of its 9 million people but has allowed only 10,000 doses to be sent to Palestine’s 5 million folks — and that’s after being shamed. UAE can buy anything it wants and to hell with the rest of humanity. Great examples of humanitarianism here. Viral variants will keep the world on edge until the entire world is vaccinated, so don’t expect the US and UK to be smug for too long.

  20. This is ridiculous and I feel like Johnson is letting perfect get in the way of good. The idea is to take the “severe” out of Covid. . If people are vaccinated start easing things— esp if vulnerable populations are covered.

  21. Btw- Lucky, railing on FL as some sort of American pariah state is preposterous. Given the demographics of Florida, it’s hard to argue against the logic. No one is making you or anyone go to dinner, Disney, the beach, or out for a drink. But go to NYC or Miami, the choice is obvious (and the relocated businesses to south Florida would agree). At a certain point it becomes clear lockdowns do not work, and just vector people to other interactions. Everyone get a grip

  22. @ Will:

    Lockdowns have been shown to work when properly instituted in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where they had proper 6-8 week lockdowns, have effective contact tracing, have been quarantining in-coming international travelers in hotels, etc. However, after this is all said and done, the half-assed lockdowns in the US and Europe may prove to have been more harmful than good, and perhaps in countries like the mine (the US) where we value our individual liberties more than our lives we should resort to PSA messages and leave businesses, churches, schools, and mask mandates alone in future Pandemics.

  23. @jbr- I don’t disagree with the logic of what you’re saying at all. What I take exception to is assuming a NZ style lockdown is even a possibility in the US, where some commuting regionals are larger than their entire population. The US stands as the world’s reserve currency, travel hub, and center of global economics. Lockdowns/hotel quarantines were never a possibility legally or culturally. Certainly NZ and their similar states will be interesting case studies, so much as in other countries globally. But the fallacious comparisons across countries is simply creating a “gotcha” style where many pro-lockdown types just say “look at New Zealand”

  24. @Will:

    How about Australia or China, both land-wise the size of the US, one of them with a population 4 times our size, and both of them effective at controlling and eliminating Covid within their borders. It’s very possible to effectively deal with Covid even if you are a big country, but it’s obvious that you have to have the buy-in from the population of the people as well, which you largely had in both Australia and China. We Americans are too divided and distrustful of one another to ever unite in that way. Plus we are too beholden to our individual liberties to care about our 85 year old neighbor’s life. So an effective lockdown was probably never possible in the US.

  25. The size of a landmass has nothing to do with the spread of disease; the number of people and the flow of people is what matters.
    Australia and NZ are island countries; any island can shut off the flow of people into its country. Neither the US or Europe can or have been able to shut off the flow of people.

    Lockdowns haven’t made multiple countries in Europe any more healthy than the US. Closing borders have.

    and it is precisely because the world still wants to go to the US and Europe that travel will rebound to those places first.

  26. @jbr- appreciative of the thoughtful response, and the debate- feel like there’s more to be learned from these convos than many realize. I would contend that China’s data and methods are quite contrary to Western values, and in some cases have been outright human rights violations. There are well published videos of Chinese government officials welding doors shut, citizens reporting one another, arrests with indefinite detention of rule breakers, and draconian restrictions on basic rights. Perhaps it’s the individual liberties that create a society where our 85 year old neighbor lives in their own home on an individual retirement plan and can freely make their own choices. Freedom has tremendous costs, but those costs allow for flourishing across metrics. As for Australia, while large in size, ranks as the third least populous nation on earth, just below Namibia and Mongolia. I simply see it as a flawed comparison- Australia has 13 or so international airports, America has around 14. At a certain point comparing Australia or NZ to the US is like a mouse to an elephant, and the mouse could hide in the hole in the wall.

  27. @Bobo Bolinski, what do you propose as the solution for getting back to normal? Based upon what you say, it seems that lockdowns should be there forever, which is not sustainable. One of my issues is that authorities from the beginning is that nobody has been proposing a good exit plan.

    I also believe people would be more amenable to following the rules from lockdowns if they have a clear timeline for when they will end. When things were “14 days to flatten the curve,” everyone I knew was cooperative. However, as it dragged on, many who I know (most of my friends are young adults, so they are not severely at risk) basically gave up following restrictions, with the attitude that this is never going to end, so it’s not worth giving up the good years of life.

  28. Living in the UK right now is tough for anyone. I feel like lockdown is all my wife and I know since we moved here back in Sept 2020. We had our mandatory 14 day quarantine upon arrival. Then we had a month of somewhat free movement being able to go out to dinner and such. November/Dec was a sort of lockdown. We moved into our house in December and spent the last 2 weeks with her family from Xmas and New Year. Then we came back home to lockdown since Jan 4. We got away from the lockdown for 2 weeks because we had to come back to the US for my wife’s green card interview. So that was nice to get away, but being home for a month now in lockdown is tough. It’s the mental aspect and monotony of day to day life when you’re stuck in your home with no where to go or can’t see anyone. To be fair, I do hope they ease restrictions a bit sooner, but highly unlikely. My wife is due with our first child in July, so we’re likely not going anywhere for a while anyway.

  29. What is telling is that the majority of people compare the US and other countries in the world and have zero consideration or understanding that we are a constitutional republic governed by the Constitution of the US. There is no other country that protects individual liberty to this degree. You don’t suspend the bill of rights over a pandemic…or any other calamity. Unfortunately some Governors and foreign governments have used this to exercise their totalitarian tendencies. When Naomi Watts and Tucker Carlson agree on something you should take notice.

  30. What I find most amazing about this thread is how many virologists, statisticians and economists contribute to the discussion. It is clear that the UK’s SAGE and US’s CDC have failed to recruit these most brilliant minds to formulate policy.

    Isn’t as simple as: COVID was effectively unknown 12 months ago. Policy makers and scientists have given it their best shot to control spread and death rates. It will be, perhaps, 4 or 5 years until enough analysis has been completed and peer reviewed before we know what was right, wrong or pointless.

    Until then, do what you’re advised. Who knows? Maybe someone out there is smarter than you.

  31. @Indopithecus:

    Thousands are dying in the US+UK of Covid each day. Until that stops and is brought down to an insignificant number (maybe a few dozen a day) these countries must do all they can to fight covid. Hoarding means holding on to more of something than you need. UK and US arguably don’t have enough vaccines at this point. Stick to the simple meaning of words, mate, not some UN-speak jargon.

    Likewise with Israel, until a country has effectively conquered Covid, it can’t be reasonably accused of hoarding the vaccine.

    But the Palestinians are a special case anyway. Free to buy and import any vaccine they’d like, they declined all
    offers of help from the West (and from Israel), preferring to wait for allocation from China, for political reasons.

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