Posted: 23.02.21 at 09:51 by Philippa Davies
MPs and local authority representatives across Devon have welcomed the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown – but some have said the unlocking should be faster than it is.
Boris Johnson has announced four steps towards a return to normality on June 21, provided the vaccination programme continues and infection rates continue to fall.
It begins with schools reopening on March 8, and a slight easing of the rules on outdoor socialising. Shops, hairdressers and beer gardens will reopen in April if all goes to plan. Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors in May if progress continues, hotels can reopen, and people able to meet in groups outside.
The final stage in June will see an end to all the restrictions on socialising, and people will no longer have to work from home.
More details of the timetable here
Devon’s MPs have welcomed the roadmap out of lockdown, but have called for the relaxing of measures to be brought forward if the data on vaccinations and infections indicates a better position than expected – particularly in view of the relatively low infection rate in the county.
The MP for Newton Abbot, Anne Marie Morris, said: “Suddenly the goal posts have moved. The vaccination was hailed as the game changer, and it is, but our huge success in vaccinating the vulnerable and many more isn’t being recognised. Full opening up must wait until everyone has had the chance of a first vaccine dose, expected now in June given the incredible rollout rate.
“Instead of adjusting opening up dependent on hospital admissions and deaths, we are now looking at infection rates. In Devon infection rates, never mind hospital admissions and deaths have fallen like a stone. We still have no impact statement on the adverse effects of lockdown itself. We know the impact on mental health is growing exponentially, and we know many businesses without an Easter season will close – forever. Is this delay proportionate to the Covid risk?
“These proposals leave no room for decisions to be bought forward, even if data is better than expected. They do not recognise that here in Devon the cost to health and livelihoods from lockdown may well outweigh the risks from Covid. Next week’s budget must provide some relief.”
The leader of Devon County Council, Cllr John Hart, said that he is urging every resident in Devon to continue to abide by the rules and keep the county’s infection rates as low as they have been so far, before the rules are relaxed.
He said: “I know that many parents will be delighted that schools are to open up and we are working with heads and their staffs to ensure that is done as safely as possible across Devon.
“For people who have endured this worst of lockdowns, the Prime Minister’s road map will provide some real hope, along with the hugely successful vaccination programme. Families who haven’t seen each other for months will be able to get together, friends will be able to meet for a coffee or go for a walk.
“I’m afraid that it looks as though our tourism and hospitality operators will miss Easter – the traditional start of the season – but at least they now have something to aim for and I know many have said when they open this time, they don’t want to have to close again.
“But hospitality and our other businesses, such as retail, which have been so hard hit by the pandemic will still need support, and I look to the Budget next week to address this, including an extension of the furlough scheme.
“Devon County Council and our partners in Team Devon will do all we can to support our businesses and provide the right climate for them to recover and thrive."
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said: “While all of us look forward to a relaxation of the national regulations, it’s vital that we continue to exercise caution.
“Covid-19 is an extremely infectious virus, and is still very much present in the community. Cases in Devon have remained relatively low compared to elsewhere in the country and we do not want to see cases rising again.
“As restrictions start to ease, we must therefore remain absolutely resolute in adhering to the national public health measures – keep our social distance, wear face coverings whenever indoors in a public place, and to wash our hands regularly.”