Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce a plan for the easing of lockdown measures on Monday – 7 weeks after England entered its third stay at home lockdown.
In a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson is expected to announce key dates for the reopening of society, including when schools, non-essential retail and hospitality can begin to reopen. Exactly how much detail the plan will include remains unknown, however, it is expected that the easing of lockdown measures will be subject to change and dependent on continued progress in the UK’s response to tackling COVID-19.
In recent days, the Prime Minister and top officials have been looking through data to consider what lockdown measures can be eased when. Amongst this data, the Government will have been keeping a close eye on COVID case rates, death rates, hospital admissions and the vaccination rollout. Data on whether vaccines are lowering the virus transmission rate is also expected to be reviewed by Downing Street.
Here’s a look at some of the latest data and what it could mean for the easing of lockdown restrictions…
Coronavirus case rate in England currently at the lowest level since the start of October
Tragically, hundreds of people are still dying from Coronavirus in the UK each day and thousands are still contracting the virus. There is though significant scope for being optimistic about the easing of lockdown restrictions, with cases of the virus falling rapidly across England (and all UK nations) in recent weeks.
As of 15 February, the 7-day rate of Coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in England was 131.1 – the lowest rate since 5 October 2020. That number is in significant contrast to the rate at the start of 2021, peaking at 680.8 cases per 100,000 people in the 7 days ending 4 January.
The lower rate means that much fewer numbers of people have been testing positive for COVID-19, indicating the impact of lockdown measures over the last 7 weeks and other strict restrictions in the weeks previous.
The Upper Tier Local Authority (UTLA) area with the highest prevalence of COVID-19 (according to case data) was Middlesbrough at the start of this week, though cases here still decreased by 16% compared with the previous 7 day period (9-15 v.s. 2-8 February)
In Plymouth, the 7-day case rate per 100,000 people was just 45.02 at 15 February, around the national average rate last September.
Vaccinations continuing at a strong rate
COVID-19 vaccinations have continued at a strong rate, with over 17.2 million people in the UK being given a first vaccine dose up to Saturday. The number of people to have received a first vaccine dose this week is down on the previous week, however, this is largely to be expected as more people receive their second dose of a vaccine.
In the last 7 days of data, just over 70,000 people in the UK have received their second dose of a vaccine against COVID-19.
Number of daily deaths continues to fall, while there are also fewer people in hospital with Coronavirus
Large numbers of people are continuing to lose their lives to COVID-19 in the UK, though that number is falling, as shown by the graph below. Since 18 January, the number of people in hospital with Coronavirus has also been falling. At the start of this week, there were around 17,093 patients in hospitals in England with COVID-19 (down from 34,336 on 18 January).
What could the data mean for the easing of lockdown restrictions?
Current data suggests that England and the rest of the UK are definitely heading in the right direction in their battle against COVID-19. With case rates now at their lowest levels in months, the number of new deaths falling and the number of people receiving the vaccine rapidly increasing, it could be imagined that lockdown restrictions may be eased quite rapidly over the coming weeks.
However, ministers have said they want this lockdown to be the last one and are likely to be cautious in their approach to easing lockdown measures. Exactly how cautious and gradual the easing of restrictions will be, we’ll find out soon.
The Government has already faced pressure from some Conservative backbenchers who want to see all lockdown measures eased over the coming months, given the rapid rollout of vaccines. While we can’t predict exact dates for the easing of measures from the above data, we can see that the data is much more positive than it was weeks ago. This means that if the Government plans to ease restrictions particularly slowly, they may face increased pressure to instead reopen society more quickly.
The Government has difficult decisions to make and lots of different factors (health, economic and more) to consider.
Boris Johnson is expected to address MPs with his plan for easing lockdown restrictions on Monday afternoon, likely around 15:30.
Data referenced in this article is publicly available from coronavirus.data.gov.uk. Where data is only included up to 15 February, this is to try to ensure accuracy, due to there being a delay between virus tests taking place and cases been recorded. Data may be updated – the inclusion of data here and our analysis is based on the available data at the time of writing. Our analysis has been created for information purposes only and we cannot guarantee its accuracy.