LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lay out plans to reopen the economy and finally relaunch international travel on Monday when he updates his coronavirus roadmap, aided by one of the world’s fastest vaccine launches.
As much of Europe enters a new lockdown to deal with soaring cases, Johnson will provide an update on his staggered plans to ease restrictions in the coming months, a huge boost for one of the hardest-hit countries during the pandemic.
Johnson is expected to confirm that non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality and hairdressers can reopen on April 12 in the UK, while he will also provide further details on vaccine passports and international travel.
Airlines are struggling to survive after a year of barely traveling, and government plans to use traffic light systems for countries based on infection and vaccination rates provide a glimmer of hope that some form of vacation could take place.
Under current plans, international travel will not resume until May 17 at the earliest. The Financial Times says Johnson is not expected to set a specific timeframe.
Gradual loosening of rules will also be helped by increased availability of testing, with everyone in the UK entitled to have a rapid COVID-19 test twice a week to prevent an outbreak and find people who are asymptomatic.
“As we continue to make good progress in our vaccine program and with our roadmap for carefully reducing restrictions, regular rapid testing is even more important to ensure those efforts are not wasted,” Johnson said in a statement.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following their own similar path from the tight lockdowns imposed earlier this year.
The UK can pursue recovery after giving AstraZeneca and Pfizer injections to more than half of the adult population. The reopening of schools in March has also not caused a spike in cases, although there has been an increase in more testing.
But Britain has been hit hard by the pandemic. With nearly 127,000 deaths, it has the fifth highest death toll in the world after the United States, Brazil, Russia and India.
In 2020, gross domestic product fell 9.8%, the largest in more than three centuries and one of the deepest contractions in the world. But households have been saving up, and sterling has strengthened against the euro ahead of its reopening.