A roadmap to recovery

Councils will continue to do all they can to support the Government’s plans for tackling COVID-19 and reducing restrictions.

So, now we have it – a roadmap that will hopefully lead us out of the current pandemic restrictions in England to a brighter future by the summer.

The first stage begins shortly, with the welcome return of all pupils in England to their classrooms from 8 March, supported by twice-weekly testing for secondary and college pupils, and continued testing of primary staff.

Two people can meet socially outdoors, but the clinically vulnerable are advised to continue to self-isolate until at least the end of March. 

We also expect that the Government will amend regulations to allow for a broader range of COVID-safe canvassing activities in the run-up to the local elections on 6 May.

Three to seven-year-olds in Wales are already back at school. As first was going to press, a review of Welsh stay-at-home rules was expected on 12 March, with other primary and some secondary pupils in Wales likely to return to classrooms from 15 March.

The Prime Minister’s plans anticipate the legal requirement to ‘stay at home’ will be lifted on 29 March in England, but many lockdown restrictions will remain in place, including working from home and minimising travel. 

The ‘rule of six ‘will be reintroduced outdoors and two families from different households will be able to meet, with some outdoor facilities opening, including tennis courts and swimming pools.

“It was good to hear the Prime Minister praise councils for the incredible work they have done

It’s anticipated that, from 12 April, non-essential retail may be able to re-open, alongside close-contact services and gyms. Pubs and restaurants could provide an outdoor-only service, and public libraries, community centres, zoos and theme parks may be able open their doors.

From 17 May, the ‘rule of six’ will be lifted outdoors and replaced by a maximum gathering limit of 30. Indoor hospitality, cinemas, hotels, performances and sporting events will then also restart. By 21 June, all restrictions could be lifted.

Of course, all of this is subject to the continuance of the current positive trends in respect of falling infection rates, hospital admissions and deaths, and rising vaccination rates. 

Before moving from one stage to the next, the Government will be assessing progress against four tests: that the vaccine deployment continues successfully; vaccines are effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations and unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and that the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of COVID-19.

The threat from the virus remains substantial and, as first went to press, the numbers in hospital had only recently fallen below those seen at the peak of the first wave last year.

However, there is much cause for optimism, with vaccinations rolling out at pace and the Government aiming to get a first dose to all priority groups by 15 April, and to every adult by the end of July.

“Pupils in England will return to classrooms from 8 March

Building on councils’ successful work with the NHS and local partners (see Councils play a lead role in vaccine rollout), I know you will continue to do all you can to help with the vaccination rollout – and especially with encouraging all our communities to have the jab.

To help support the work of councils in this area, the LGA has launched a series of case studies and resources on COVID-19 behaviours, including vaccine hesitancy. These show how councils have used behavioural science techniques to increase vaccine uptake, as well as improve adherence to COVID-19 regulations (see www.local.gov.uk/covid-19-behavioural-change-case-studies).

In addition to the vaccination programme, widespread community testing – coordinated by councils – will be crucial to reducing infection rates. 

The Government’s roadmap confirmed that the community testing programme will be extended until at least the end of June. The rapid-testing scheme partnership between national and local government was expanded in January for all local authorities in England and nearly all have now joined. 

This enables asymptomatic testing for local public services, small businesses, self-employed people and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus. 

Ministers have praised councils for their efforts in applying local knowledge to the programme, particularly in targeting those who are asymptomatic in our communities.

It was also good to hear the Prime Minister single out councils for praise, saying that he was “very grateful to councils, and particularly public health officials, for the incredible work that they have done in the past year”.

Hopefully, some of that appreciation will have been matched with the resources councils need to support the recovery in this month’s Budget, which took place after this edition of first went to press. Please see Budget 2021 – On-the-Day Briefing for our full response to the Chancellor’s statement.

Author

See www.local.gov.uk/coronavirus for the LGA’s latest pandemic updates, resources and support for councils. The Department for Education’s updated guidance on managing schools and early years settings is at www.gov.uk/coronavirus/education-and-childcare. See www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-sets-out-roadmap-to-cautiously-ease-lockdown-restrictions for the Government’s roadmap.

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