Last week, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England, and although I believe we should be driven by data rather than dates, what it does offer is offer hope that this will be the irreversible end of lockdown.
The positives are that we are the first major country in the world to set out a plan to end the Covid 19 restrictions, and this has only been made possible by our vaccine programme which is the envy of Europe, which aren’t my words but that of Germany’s most popular daily newspaper.
As you will no doubt be aware, the schools will return on March 8. Then, on March 29, there will be a slight relaxation to allow people to meet - subject to the Rule of Six - outside and outdoor sport and leisure facilities reopen.
Next, on April 12, indoor leisure, including gyms, will open, as will outdoor attractions such as zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas. Libraries and community centres will reopen. Barbers and hairdressers will finally be allowed to deal with our lockdown hair once more. All retail will resume. Outdoor hospitality – beer gardens and al fresco dining will come back online. Households will be able to go on holiday (but not yet stay with other households) and small weddings (15 people) and funerals (30 people) will be allowed.
Then, on May 17, all being well, indoor entertainment (cinemas and bowling alleys and the like), overnight stays with other families, hotels and B&Bs, some large events with restrictions, and – maybe – international travel.
Last, on June 21, everything else. Nightclubs, huge events, the lot.
These are all 'no earlier than' dates and whilst I am very pleased that we have a plan to get out of this, I was looking for a plan which was driven by data rather than dates, so if we do see a continued rapid drop in cases, hospitalisations and deaths in the next few weeks, I will be looking for the Government to accelerate the programme. This does of course rely on the vaccine rollout continuing to hit its targets, on the vaccines continuing to work, and on people coming forward to get their jabs. The signs are good if everyone plays their part. As I write this, we have vaccinated 27% of the population of NW Leics and whilst our takeup is good, the figures in our neighbouring City of Leicester is only 20% and I do hope those groups sceptical of taking the vaccine do take it up in order for us to get out of this. We have also recently had one of the higher case rates of covid in the Country and I would again urge everyone in NW Leics to stick to the rules over the next few weeks.
We do have to accept that this strategy will not destroy Covid. Covid will most likely be with us , as flu is, forever, but because of our vaccine programme, we will be able to live with it, and we will be able to keep most people safe from it.
There may still be bumps in the road, there may still be unexpected twists and turns – but thanks to everyone’s extraordinary work and patience, we now have a roadmap.
Turning to another issue, I have had a number of e-mails in recent weeks about occurrences of Pet theft. To their owners, pets are cherished members of the family and stealing one from a loving home is a particularly vicious crime. All reported crimes should be taken seriously, investigated and, where appropriate, taken through the courts and met with tough sentences. The theft of a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 and the maximum penalty is seven years' imprisonment.
My colleagues in Government take the issue of pet theft very seriously and are concerned by suggestions that occurrences are on the rise. I have made representations to the Government about the growing concerns about this matter and would urge all those who own pets of value to be vigilant about this issue.
Stay safe and stick with the rules, the end is now in sight.