Further COVID-19 restrictions set to be relaxed on May 17

Boris Johnson

The Roadmap is on track and planned Step 3 easements will go ahead on 17 May, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The data shows that the government’s ‘four tests’ for easing restrictions have been met. Infection rates are at their lowest level since September, while hospital admissions and patients in hospital continue to decrease – with levels now similar to July last year

From the 17 May, the majority of the indoor and remaining outdoor economy can reopen, and gathering limits will increase indoors and outdoors. Guidance for close contact between friends and family will be updated, with people exercising their own personal judgement in line with the risks.

The ‘stay in the UK’ restriction will be lifted and people will be able to travel to green list countries, if they permit inbound travel.

The assessment to move to Step 3 was based on four tests; The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.

As set out in the Roadmap, four weeks is needed to fully understand the impact of each step. The Government also committed to provide a further weeks’ notice to businesses.

From Monday 17 May indoor hospitality can reopen and indoor entertainment can resume, including cinemas, museums, and children’s play areas.

Up to 6 people or 2 households will be able to meet indoors and up to 30 people outdoors.

All remaining outdoor entertainment can reopen, such as outdoor cinemas and performances. Some larger events will be able to take place, including conferences, theatre and concert performances, and sports events. Restrictions on the number of attendees will remain as set out in the Roadmap.

The Transport Secretary has confirmed that international travel can begin to safely reopen from 17 May, allowing people to go on foreign holidays to ‘green’ list countries. Strict border control measures will remain in place, including pre-departure tests and a PCR test on or before day two of their arrival back in the UK.

All remaining university students will be eligible to return to in-person teaching and learning from May 17, and should get tested twice a week upon return.

Up to 30 people will now be able to attend weddings, receptions, and commemorative events including wakes, as well as standalone life-cycle events. These can take place outdoors or at any indoor Covid secure venue that is permitted to open. The number of people able to attend a funeral will be determined by the number that can be safely accommodated in the venue with social distancing in place.

The successful vaccination rollout continues, with over 35 million people receiving at least one dose, and nearly 18 million receiving both doses. One quarter of all adults have now received the strongest protection available.

The latest data shows that the estimated reduction in symptomatic disease is 60% and hospitalisations 80% for one dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 80 and over. Data published by PHE today estimates that for the over 80s, two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalisation by 93%.

Step 4 is due to take place no earlier than 21 June. Further detail on Step 4 will be set out at the end of the month.

Employment law reaction

Kate Palmer, HR Advice Director at Peninsula reacts to the announcement from an employment law perspective.

Although this news will not come as a significant surprise, with favourable data on the level of virus circulating in England and the number of people vaccinated continuing to increase at a substantial rate. Businesses have now been given a final confirmation that the next stage of England’s roadmap out of lockdown is to go ahead from Monday 17 May. There was confirmation that hotels, hostels and other types of accommodation will be able to open as people are now permitted to travel for leisure within Great Britain. Indoor hospitality can also re-open as planned. Indoor entertainment and visitor attractions, like galleries, theatres, cinemas and soft play centres, will also be able to re-open their doors as this stage of lockdown concludes.

Businesses have now been given the seven-day notice of re-starting their operations or operating more widely again. More staff will receive the call to return to work, and employers shouldn’t delay doing this, ensuring to stick to any notice period for recall that was agreed at the outset. Where no notice of return was agreed, as much notice as possible should be given. All Covid secure measures should be in place to protect employees from exposure to the virus; despite the lowering of overall Covid alert level across Great Britain, social distancing rules remain in place when not with friends or family.

Furlough arrangements can be concluded for some, although businesses should remember that they still have the flexibility to re-furlough staff where necessary until the end of September 2021 and furlough others for the first time, albeit with a reduction to wage funding from July.

Those remaining employers who are still unable to open, including nightclubs, can take today’s announcement as a strong indication that everything is on track for the final stage of reopening on 21 June 2021, when all enforced business closure will be lifted.

Industry reaction

John Foster, CBI Director of Policy, said: “It’s encouraging to see the roadmap remains on track, with the certainty it’s provided businesses so far already appearing evident in recent economic data. And universities and students alike will also be relieved by the return to in-person teaching from next week. Meanwhile, the Government can inject further momentum into the recovery by providing companies with clarity on outstanding issues, including social distancing, covid status certificates and the future of workplace testing beyond June 21. Getting answers will help business cement the gains so far, laying strong foundations for the recovery, and support the planned full reopening of the economy without delay.”