Posted: 23.02.21 at 10:08 by Philippa Davies
MPs and local authority representatives across Devon have welcomed the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown – but some have said the unlocking should be faster than it is.
Boris Johnson has announced four steps towards a return to normality on June 21, provided the vaccination programme continues and infection rates continue to fall.
It begins with schools reopening on March 8, and a slight easing of the rules on outdoor socialising. Shops, hairdressers and beer gardens will reopen in April if all goes to plan. Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors in May if progress continues, hotels can reopen, and people able to meet in groups outside.
The final stage in June will see an end to all the restrictions on socialising, and people will no longer have to work from home.
More details on the timetable here
Devon’s MPs have welcomed the roadmap out of lockdown,but some have called for the relaxing of measures to be brought forward if the data on vaccinations and infections indicates a better position than expected – particularly in view of the relatively low infection rate in the county.
However, the East Devon MP Simon Jupp says he understand the need to take things slowly.
He has tweeted: "The PM has now revealed the roadmap to recovery. I want our steps towards normality to be irreversible and understand the need for caution. We must ensure another lockdown isn’t around the corner. I will continue to campaign for further support to protect jobs in EastDevon."
Local authority leaders are also cautious.
Cllr Paul Arnott, the leader of East Devon District Council, said: “It is clear from the Prime Minister’s statement today that he realises there must be some restrictions in place until at least June 21. That date for total return to normal still seems optimistic, but the key factor at that time will be how many people in the UK have had both jabs by then.
“For East Devon, the re-opening of schools on March 8, some still under masked conditions, is to be welcomed. Our local children and their parents and carers have had a traumatic winter of isolation, and with spring in the air I am sure they will be relieved to return.
“It is also a relief to be allowed to have limited meetings with others for socialising and outdoor sport at the end of this month, although I would urge people to remember that lockdown is still in place. We should take the time to make socially-distanced contact with neighbours we may not have seen for months.
“Local businesses and their customers will be relieved to hear that shops, museums, outdoor pubs and restaurants etc. may be allowed to open at some time in April, but this is yet to be confirmed. For our vital tourist industry, the re-opening of self-catering accommodation, zoos, theme parks and camp sites will be a welcome green shoot.
“For EDDC, our valued LED leisure service remains restricted until at least April, and of course all our operations through Streetscene must continue under the cautious conditions of the last year until further notice.
“I would urge everyone to remain very careful but to be encouraged that this summer we may be seeing some form of return to normality. Until then: Stay Safe and Protect the NHS.”
The leader of Devon County Council, Cllr John Hart, said that he is urging every resident in Devon to continue to abide by the rules and keep the county’s infection rates as low as they have been so far, before the rules are relaxed.
He said: “I know that many parents will be delighted that schools are to open up and we are working with heads and their staffs to ensure that is done as safely as possible across Devon.
“For people who have endured this worst of lockdowns, the Prime Minister’s road map will provide some real hope, along with the hugely successful vaccination programme. Families who haven’t seen each other for months will be able to get together, friends will be able to meet for a coffee or go for a walk.
“I’m afraid that it looks as though our tourism and hospitality operators will miss Easter – the traditional start of the season – but at least they now have something to aim for and I know many have said when they open this time, they don’t want to have to close again.
“But hospitality and our other businesses, such as retail, which have been so hard hit by the pandemic will still need support, and I look to the Budget next week to address this, including an extension of the furlough scheme.
“Devon County Council and our partners in Team Devon will do all we can to support our businesses and provide the right climate for them to recover and thrive.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said: “While all of us look forward to a relaxation of the national regulations, it’s vital that we continue to exercise caution.
“Covid-19 is an extremely infectious virus, and is still very much present in the community. Cases in Devon have remained relatively low compared to elsewhere in the country and we do not want to see cases rising again.
“As restrictions start to ease, we must therefore remain absolutely resolute in adhering to the national public health measures – keep our social distance, wear face coverings whenever indoors in a public place, and to wash our hands regularly.”