Today marks the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, an opportunity to reflect on the past year, one of the most difficult in our country's history. The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and we offer our sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones.
We should also remember the great spirit shown by our nation over this past year. We have all played our part, whether it’s working on the front line as a nurse or carer, working on vaccine development and supply, helping to get that jab into arms, home schooling your children, or just by staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus.
It is because of every person in this country that lives have been saved, our NHS was protected, and we have started on our cautious road to easing restrictions once and for all.
We are making real progress in our fight against this virus, thanks to the perseverance of people in following the rules, and the success of our vaccination programme, which has now vaccinated almost 28 million people with their first dose and over 30 million vaccines total across the UK - over half of all adults in the UK. As well as this, deaths have fallen by 90% since the last peak and over a third over the past week, and hospitalisations by over 80% since the last peak and almost a quarter.
However, we must proceed with caution, especially when the third wave in continental Europe shows us that the threat from this virus has not disappeared. Although the vaccine offers clear protection, no vaccine is 100% effective, and there are still vulnerable people that we must protect through our vaccination programme. In addition, like any virus, COVID-19 can mutate, meaning the virus remains a risk.
If we move too quickly, we risk putting unsustainable pressure on our NHS. As a result, we have put in place our four-step Roadmap, allowing us to make cautious, but irreversible steps out of the national lockdown.
We were able to take the first step on March 8th, as we allowed schools to return, relaxed the rules on two people gathering outside for recreation, and allowed care home residents to nominate a single regular visitor, supported by regular tested and PPE.
As the Prime Minister has said, progression through the Roadmap will be guided by data, not dates.
In the Roadmap we have four tests that must be met before we can move through each step:
- the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
- evidence continues to show vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated;
- infection rates are not causing a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and
- no new risks of variants.
We are currently meeting each of these tests and remain on track to deliver on our vaccine commitments of offering a vaccine to all in groups 1-9 by 15 April and offer to all adults by the end of July. We are therefore able move forward with the next stage of the Roadmap through these regulations, and commit the remaining steps of the roadmap into law, before we lift legal restrictions altogether in Step 4 on 21 June.