Step by step: how England's Covid lockdown will be lifted

Boris Johnson has set out a plan for reopening in four stages, with a minimum of five weeks between each

A man sits outside a closed pub in Eton, Berkshire
A man sits outside a closed pub in Eton, Berkshire. Most outdoor venues including pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open during step 2. Photograph: Maureen McLean/Rex/Shutterstock
A man sits outside a closed pub in Eton, Berkshire. Most outdoor venues including pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open during step 2. Photograph: Maureen McLean/Rex/Shutterstock
Political correspondent

Last modified on Mon 22 Feb 2021 23.36 EST

Boris Johnson has announced detailed plans for the unlocking of England amid the coronavirus vaccination programme. Here is the proposed timetable, in four stages, and other initiatives announced by Downing Street.

No 10 is stressing that after the first step the subsequent stages of reopening could be subject to delay and that the programme would be guided by “data rather than dates”.

There is a minimum of five weeks between each stage – four weeks to collect and assess data and then a week for people and businesses to prepare for the next step.

All the changes will be England-wide with no return to regional tiers. The only exception could be localised efforts if a new variant of the virus is detected, for example additional testing.

Step 1, part 1 – 8 March

  • All pupils and college students return fully, with before- and after-school clubs opened. For a period, secondary school pupils and older will wear masks in classes.

  • People can meet one other person outside for, say, a coffee or picnic, not just for exercise. Children will still count towards this.

  • Care home residents can receive one regular, named visitor.

  • The “stay at home” order will otherwise stay in place.

Step 1, part 2 – 29 March

  • Outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens.

  • Outdoor sport for children and adults will be allowed including outdoor swimming pools.

  • The official stay at home order will end, but people will be encouraged to stay local – the definition of local will largely be left to people’s discretion.

  • People will still be asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

Step 2 – no earlier than 12 April

  • Reopening of non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and public buildings such as libraries.

  • Most outdoor venues open, including pubs and restaurants but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

  • Also reopening will be settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules will apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing.

  • Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open but again people can only go alone or with their own household.

  • Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities, but only for one household.

  • Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

  • While it is not part of step 2, this is the earliest point after which the bulk of university students could know about the resumption of face-to-face classes. A review of this will take place at the end of the Easter holidays.

Step 3 – no earlier than 17 May

  • Most mixing rules lifted outdoors, with a limit of 30 people meeting in parks or gardens.

  • Indoor mixing will be allowed, up to six people or, if it is more people, two households.

  • Indoor venues such as the inside of pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, play centres, cinemas, museums and group exercise classes will reopen. The new indoor and outdoor mixing limits will remain for pubs and other hospitality venues.

  • This will be the earliest date at which international holidays could resume, subject to a review – see the list of reviews below.

  • For sport, indoor venues can have up to 1,000 spectators or half capacity, whichever is lower; outdoors the limit will be 4,000 people or half capacity, whichever is lower. Very large outdoor seated venues, such as big football stadiums, where crowds can be spread out, will have a limit of 10,000 people, or a quarter full, whichever is fewer.

  • Weddings will be allowed a limit of 30 people, with other events such as christenings and barmitzvahs also permitted.

Step 4 – no earlier than 21 June

  • All legal limits removed on mixing will be removed and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.

  • There are likely to be changes to wider social distancing measures but this will be decided in a separate review – also see below.

Four reviews taking place within the unlocking process

  • On whether “Covid status certificates” – ie vaccine or test passports – could be used to help reopen the economy and/or reduce restrictions on contact. This will be set out ahead of step 4. Officials say it is not a foregone conclusion that these will be used.

  • An “events research programme”, with pilots to test the effects of larger crowds and/or reduced social distancing. This will start in April.

  • A Department for Transport review into how to allow more inbound and outbound travel as soon as possible, given worries over new variants of Covid. It will report on 12 April, but international travel will not resume before 17 May at the earliest.

  • A review of social distancing, for example the 1 metre-plus rule, and on masks and working from home. This will conclude before step 4.

Commons scrutiny and votes

  • For most of the rules the government will lay a statutory instrument, a form of legislation, before 8 March and it will be debated and voted on before the Easter recess.

  • Before this there will be a much more limited measure to allow one-to-one outdoor meetings and the reopening of venues such as after-school clubs.