The roadmap out of lockdown was unveiled on the 22nd February, and with it came changes to restrictions and plans for the future. Here's everything you need to know about how coronavirus could impact you this year.
Coronavirus has been in the UK for almost a year, and yet, we're feeling the impact of the pandemic on our lives now more than ever. Britain has been in various stages of lockdown since last autumn in order to prevent spreading the virus, and the pressure is on to vaccinate everyone in the UK, to protect lives and prevent further infections. As we steer through another national lockdown, we're all wondering what the rest of 2021 will look like, and when, if ever, things will begin to look more normal.
It's difficult to know how much Coronavirus will impact our lives this year, as there are many factors in play, such as how quickly the UK can be vaccinated, how reliable the vaccinations will be, whether new variants of the virus will surface, and the inevitable aftermath of the pandemic. Despite the unknown, the Prime Minister has set out a roadmap with goalposts on when restrictions could lift and life could return to normalcy again. Here's what we know so far.
The Roadmap Out of Lockdown
The UK announced its third national lockdown on January 4th, effectively closing all retail and hospitality, asking people to work remotely where possible and stay at home for a minimum of six weeks. Almost two months after lockdown began, Boris Johnson announced a new roadmap for easing out of restrictions safely.
The four-step approach sets dates for when specific restrictions will ease, with the condition that the data is going in the right direction. Each stage will have a minimum of five weeks between them, giving the government four weeks for the data to reflect changes in restrictions; followed by seven days’ notice of the restrictions to be eased.
The decision on restrictions easing will be 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
If there continues to be a reduction in threat from Coronavirus, the UK will follow a four-step approach to easing restrictions. There has been some speculation in the press about the dates being brought forward if the data is favourable, but that remains to be seen.
Step one will see children going back to school from the 8th March, alongside other small eases in restrictions, including but not limited to, childcare resuming, care residents being able to receive one visitor, and individuals being able to leave home for recreation outdoors with one other person.
Gatherings of up to 6 people outdoors will be allowed from 29th March, outdoor sports facilities will reopen and the stay at home order will end, although other lockdown restrictions may remain.
Step two will see non-essential retail re-opening from 12th April, with most outdoor attractions re-opening, indoor leisure activities opening such as pools, and hospitality venues serving people outdoors. Self-contained accommodation will also open, with funerals continuing with up to 30 people allowed. Most importantly, we'll be able to get a haircut!
Step three will see social contact rules outdoors mostly lifted from the 17th May, with a rule of 6 indoors, indoor hospitality reopening, with life events such as weddings and funerals resuming with up to 30 people allowed to attend, and larger sporting events to be allowed, with conditions.
Step four will see all legal restrictions on social contact lifting on the 21st of June. This potentially means larger events may go ahead without restriction, and potentially lift restrictions on events like weddings.
There are three vaccines in use in the UK. The Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford University vaccines have all been approved for use. They have been shown to be more effective than initially predicted – by above 90 percent in some instances. In the latest vaccine efficacy data, Public Health England found that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces hospitalisations and deaths by at least 75%.
There are concerns, though, that these vaccines won't protect against new variants of the virus, which are emerging all over the world. However, early research on the Pfizer vaccine shows it will be effective against the dominant new variant in the UK, known as the 'Kent strain', with the WHO recommending the Oxford vaccine worldwide despite new variants of the virus being present.
Vaccinating those most at risk from covid is a priority and so vaccinations are currently underway for these groups across the UK. There are nine priority groups in total and they include individuals over a certain age, those working on the frontlines, those classed as an at-risk group, and more.
Currently, over 17 million at-risk individuals have had their first vaccination, with over 600,000 having full protection. Once the at-risk groups have been vaccinated, the rest of the UK will be offered a vaccine. In his press conference on 22nd February Boris Johnson said the new target is for every adult in the UK to have been offered a vaccine by the end of July.
Support for Businesses and Self-Employed
When the pandemic began last March, various support packages were formed by the government to financially support businesses and the self-employed. These schemes included help towards paying employee wages, loans, grants and more.
Many of these schemes have been extended numerous times as the UK has gone in and out of lockdown, with some still having no official end date, however, some packages are due to come to an end over the next couple of months.
Rishi Sunak, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be delivering the financial budget for this year on the 3rd March, which is likely to include updates on business support for this year.
Due to the continuation of lockdown and the likely continued impact that Coronavirus will have on the UK this year, there have been calls by Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to immediately extend support packages such as the furlough scheme and the business rates relief.
Boris Johnson said in Parliament on the 22nd February that the government will 'not pull the rug out' and will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK. He also confirmed that further details on support packages will be set out in the financial budget.
Here our team at Chesterton House Accounting Services have been helping our client's businesses to survive and thrive through the pandemic. Take a look at our video here for an insight on how we've been helping our clients navigate the pandemic and prosper over the past year.
For up to date information on what support the government is currently offering for businesses and the self-employed, take a look at the government website here.
Support for Individuals
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the financial security and well being of everyone around the world, and it's fair to say that most have struggled in some way. Here in the UK, many lives have been lost and there has yet to be a reprieve from the restrictions that dictate the way people live. Once the pandemic ends, there will likely be knock-on effects in the economy, the NHS and the wellbeing of the population for a lengthy period of time. Due to these challenges there have been various forms of support available for individuals.
Mortgage and loan holidays have been a factor in helping individuals mitigate costs in case they've been financially impacted. You can still apply for a mortgage or loan holiday from your bank's website. If you're struggling financially, Money Saving Expert has a great guide on support for finance and bills here.
Our Mortgage Adviser, Alex, can help you make sure you're on the best deal for your mortgage or help you look for a new one if you're thinking of moving home. Take a look here to see how we can help you get your ideal home.
The government is also offering various forms of support. If you're having trouble getting your food or medicine, worried about going into work, struggling with mental health, and more, fill in the government support questionnaire to see what forms of support are available to you.
If you need support with having food or medicine delivered, we have volunteers that would be more than happy to help. You can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're experiencing poor mental health, you can get immediate advice on what actions you could take by filling in the NHS mood assessment quiz here. You can also visit the NHS list of charities if you're looking for a specific type of support.
With almost a year in lockdown, many are eager to be able to know when they can book a local or international holiday abroad. Currently, in the UK, it's illegal to travel apart from specific circumstances, and that is unlikely to change any time soon. The UK government have also published extensive travel and quarantine restrictions for anyone arriving in the UK, which came into effect today.
Earlier this month Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary urged people to not book holidays, reasoning that 'we do not know where we will be by the Summer'. On the 22nd of February, the roadmap indicated that from the 12th of April, self-contained accommodation would reopen and that that the 21st of June would hopefully see all legal restrictions lifting on social distancing. However, currently, there hasn't yet been any information published on when UK citizens can travel and go on holiday again, but this hasn't stopped a huge surge in holiday bookings since the announcement.
Looking to the Future
It's difficult to comment on what the future could look like, during the pandemic and beyond. Back in December, the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty stated that vaccinations would not mean necessarily mean a quick end to social distancing measures as there will never be a 'zero-risk' from the virus. In January, experts clamoured that long-term planning needs to be part of the solution, or the UK risks being vulnerable to attacks from the virus for at least another year.
As we look to the future, the data on how the vaccines protect individuals and prevent the spreading of the virus will be key to how our lives will be affected. This data will take time to collate, however, research is already showing that the vaccines are providing significant protection against Coronavirus, and with 17 million people already vaccinated in the UK, we could see the start of the new normal sooner than we think.
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