UK Coronavirus restrictions could be lifted in June: The PM’s road map to exiting lockdown misery
As the UK continues to battle through its third national coronavirus lockdown, vaccine progressions and recent comments from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are significantly improving the UK’s outlook for the future.
The developments follow comments from UK Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, who stated last year that UK lockdowns could be necessary until March 2021. Mr Johnson, however, has since revealed that restrictions will be eased from March, with the aim to lift all limits on social activity from June.
Mr Johnson addressed the House of Commons today outlining his roadmap to gradually bring the UK out of lockdown. The Prime Minister stated that coronavirus remains a substantial threat in the UK and is hesitant to make any definitive decisions that could cause another wave of infections. To prevent further a further spike in the future, he stated that he will focus on ‘data rather than dates.’
Boris Johnson’s roadmap strategy to exit UK lockdown
Following his address in the House of Commons this afternoon, Mr Johnson will address the nation tonight reiterating his plans to exit the UK’s third national lockdown.
The Prime Minister revealed that the easing of lockdown restrictions will be done in four steps with a five-week gap in between each step to assess the progress. Step one will begin with the opening of schools from 8th March and allow outdoor gatherings of six people or two households, including meetings in private gardens.
The second step could begin from 12th April and aims to see the opening of non-essential retail, services and leisure.
The third step aims to start from 17th May and will look to end the rule of six outdoors if coronavirus cases continue to fall. Two households could be able to mix in pubs, as well as the reopening of cinemas, hotels, performances and sporting events.
The fourth and final step will look to commence from 21st June and looks to lift all restrictions on social activity, with the last remainders of the economy reopened such as nightclubs and restrictions on weddings and funerals banned.
Despite the rapid rollout of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Moderna vaccine approval, Mr Johnson is apprehensive about lifting lockdown measures too early, particularly given the new strains of COVID-19 which are said to spread more rapidly. The latest coronavirus variant, B.1.525, contains a genetic change known as E484K which is also present in the Brazilian and South African variants. There are currently 38 cases in the UK of the B.1.525 variant.
Professor Whitty noted in December that the nation should not ‘let their guard down’ despite the rapid vaccination rollout, highlighting that for the next three months, the UK will not have sufficient protection. It is currently uncertain as to precisely how long the Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines will offer protection, with estimations that it could only be effective for nine months.
History of UK coronavirus lockdowns
The UK has now undergone three national lockdowns since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, in a bid to reduce the rate of infection, though it remains uncertain as to when the current third lockdown will be fully lifted. The first lockdown took place in March, with restrictions easing during June and the second occurring during the majority of November into early December.
The first UK national lockdown imposed tight restrictions on the UK, with leaving the house permitted for limited purposes including shopping for necessities; one form of exercise a day, travel to and from work if necessary and serious medical reasons.
All stores selling non-essential goods, including hair and nail salons, hotels, gyms, retail stores and B&Bs were ordered to close, as well as places of worship. The only places permitted to remain open were supermarkets, banks, post offices, pet shops and restaurants with takeaway options.
Weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies were also banned, with funerals only allowed to go ahead, if people remained at least two metres apart from one another.
Restrictions during the second UK lockdown was less limiting as a result of the tier system. Tier one indicating a medium risk region, tier two high risk and tier three very high risk. Non-essential stores were permitted to stay open regardless of their tier location as well as the ability to meet up with someone from another household outdoors.
Days before Christmas, however, Boris Johnson placed London into the newly introduced tier four category, ordering residents to stay at home with the exception of essential activities, such as work and food shopping. After Christmas, over 40 million more people were placed into tier four in a bid to contain the spread of infection, in addition to school closures.
The third and current UK national lockdown very much resembles the first, with leaving the house only permitted under exceptional circumstances. It’s now been confirmed, however, that over 17.5 million people in the UK have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, paving the way for the resumption of normality.
Why are UK coronavirus lockdowns still necessary?
Whilst December saw the rollout of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from 4th January, Professor Chris Whitty noted that the winter months are already challenging enough for the NHS and attempting to resume normality because of the vaccines would be premature.
Despite Professor Whitty’s cautionary words, he also stated that the UK had the possibility of returning to normality by summer 2021, in line with the Prime Ministers recent comments, by which point a portfolio of vaccines should become available. In addition to Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca, it’s been reported that the Moderna vaccine has also been approved in the UK, though an official rollout date has not been announced.
Whilst January saw recorded cases of COVID-19 growing at an incredibly rapid rate, numbers are gradually beginning to ease. As of 21st February, daily recorded coronavirus cases were 9,834, down from 68,053 on 8th January.
It was confirmed during the beginning of 2021 that the Moderna vaccine, which has a 94% effectiveness at fighting coronavirus, had been granted UK approval. 17 million doses of the vaccine have been secured, though it’s thought that this will not be rolled out until Spring 2021.
Matt Hancock stated that “Moderna’s vaccine will allow us to accelerate our vaccination programme even further”. The Moderna vaccine also appears to be effective against the coronavirus variants, particularly those found in the UK and South Africa.
Oxford-Astrazeneca Vaccine Rollout
January saw the introduction of the vaccine created by Oxford University and pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, in the UK. The first person to receive the vaccine was 82-year-old Brian Pinker at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital.
The Oxford jab differs from Pfizer’s vaccine in that it can be stored in a standard fridge, whereas the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has hailed the vaccine as a pivotal moment at fighting the coronavirus and that it provides renewed hope to reach the end of the pandemic.
Pfizer Vaccine Progression so far
Following its approval on 2nd December 2020, the first person in the world received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, which took place at University Hospital, Coventry.
Priority is currently being given to people aged 70 years old and over, as well as healthcare staff. The UK Health Secretary highlighted that people would not need to apply to get the vaccine and that the NHS will contact those who are currently eligible.
Professor Whitty has warned that social distancing restrictions in the UK will not be eased until at least 20 million vulnerable UK citizens have received the vaccine. With the UK now surpassing 15 million vaccinations, the nation is certainly edging closer to reaching normality.
Since the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, two NHS nurses have reported an allergic reaction, though each soon recovered after receiving the necessary treatment. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have since stated that those with a significant history with allergic reactions should avoid receiving Pfizer’s vaccine.
How have vaccine developments affected GBP currency markets?
Whilst COVID-19 and Brexit trade negotiations created significant pressure for the British pound (GBP) during 2020, optimism in pound Sterling soon received a boost following the coronavirus vaccine approvals as well as the Brexit trade deal.
The British pound (GBP) recovered losses against its key competitors including the US dollar (USD) and euro (EUR) following Pfizer’s statement that the vaccine would be 90% effective against combating COVID-19 during December 2020.
Pound Sterling strengthened once again following news that the UK would be the first country to approve the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. The British pound (GBP) is trading 0.2% higher against the US dollar (USD) at USD 1.40, while the British pound to euro (GBP/EUR) exchange rate has rallied near EUR 1.16.
Whilst the UK clearly has a way to go before returning to normality, the rollout of both Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine and Moderna’s approval is certainly a step in the right direction, steering the nation towards economic recovery.