Boris Johnson is expected to set out April as a tentative month for the reopening of non-essential shops and hospitality venues.
The Prime Minister is scheduled to reveal the plan in the House of Commons at 3.30pm, followed by a press conference in Downing Street at 7pm.
The government has drawn up a four-step plan with a gradual easing of restrictions each month, based on the anticipated progress of the vaccine roll-out and improvements in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation numbers.
To progress to the next step, there will be four conditions: the vaccine rollout will have to continue as planned, with data suggesting that it is helping with reducing hospitalisations and death; infection rates should also not correspond to a rise in hospital admissions while new variants don’t pose major risks.
On March 8, schools will reopen with outdoor activities allowed after class, Downing Street has confirmed, with two non-cohabiting people will be allowed to sit down outdoors for a picnic. The numbers of people allowed to meet outdoors will rise to six as of March 29.
At the end of next month, outdoor sports facilities will also reopen and organised sports will be allowed, while people will be able to travel out of their areas although with the recommendation of staying local, with a ban on overnight stays.
If all goes well, non-essential retail and hospitality sites will resume trading during April, with domestic holidays allowed if limited to self-catering, according to media reports.
In May it is expected to be the turn of hairdressers, beauticians and other ‘close contact’ treatments. If the virus numbers continue to fall, May could also see pubs permitted to start serving customers indoors, without the 10pm curfew and substantial meals imposed with drinks.
As of June, weddings and indoor gatherings of six people could be reintroduced.
Because the government is targeting to offer the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for all adults by the end of July, restrictions could be eased further, although it’s not clear when international travel will be made more accessible.
Investors reacted by selling companies such as Ocado (LON:OCDO), Just Eat Takeaway (LON:JET), ITV (LON:ITV), Games Workshop (LON:GAW), and others seen as lockdown winners or linked to consumer spending.
Travel companies led the FTSE 350 risers, with TUI (LON:TUI) up 5%, Wizz Air (LON:WIZZ) and easyJet (LON:EZJ) rising 4%, and BA owner IAG (LON:IAG) up 2%, while much-shorted cinema operator Cineworld (LON:CINE) and casino owner Rank (LON:RNK) up 3% and 4% respectively.
Analysts at Shore Capital said they would be interested to see whether the speculation is confirmed in the PM’s speech later on “and what additional details are provided on the various metrics. The correct approach in our view is to take each of the metrics in the context of the capacity within hospitals, as opposed to using arbitrary absolute values.”
“The uncertainty around all of these criteria reflects one key factor – what is the exact strategy the government is trying to achieve? Is it trying to eliminate COVID-19? Or live with it? The strategy of eliminating the disease has only really been discussed in recent weeks and is a very difficult objective in our view.”
“Talk of suppressing the virus to very low levels and implementing border closures has led some to speculate that this may be the strategy being pursued. However, if the above criteria are correct, it feels that there is some tolerance regarding the spread of the virus given the focus is on healthcare pressure and hospitalisations and deaths, as opposed to arbitrary targets on infection levels. If confirmed, this would be very welcome, as we think the costs of an elimination strategy would far outweigh the benefits.”