People queue outside a Covid-19) test centre at London Bridge Station, in London, Britain, April 5 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY
People queue outside a Covid-19) test centre at London Bridge Station, in London, Britain, April 5 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY

London — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed restaurants and non-essential shops will open again for the first time in four months as England’s lockdown is eased next week, but the ban on foreign travel may remain for longer.

The earliest date for resuming non-essential international travel will be May 17 and officials warned on Monday that a further delay could be required if coronavirus infections continue to surge elsewhere in the world. A decision will be taken nearer the time, they said.

In England, falling hospitalisation and death rates and the successful rollout of vaccines, which has seen more than 31.5-million people given at least one dose, means the country is on course to continue gradually lifting restrictions that have been in place since early January.

That means from April 12 non-essential shops will resume trading, with pubs and restaurants serving customers at patio tables again, while outdoor attractions including zoos will reopen to visitors.

As the government makes plans for living with the virus in the longer term, a new system of Covid passports is being developed, which ministers hope will eventually make it easier for events with live audiences to resume and to ease travel restrictions and social-distancing rules for thousands of businesses.

The prime minister set out the plans alongside interim findings from four policy reviews at a media conference in London on Monday.

The document confirmed Bloomberg’s earlier reports of a possible delay to the planned reopening of international travel on May 17, given the worsening pandemic situation in Europe, and a new “traffic light” system coming into force to code countries based on virus risk.

The government “hopes” summer holidays will be possible in 2021 but is advising the public not to book “until the picture is clearer”. For now, non-essential foreign travel is illegal, officials said.

Covid certification will be crucial to potentially allowing travel to resume more quickly, according to officials.

The document says it is “right” for the government to develop a way of “easily demonstrating” a person’s Covid status. Certification aims to show a person has natural immunity having tested positive for the virus, has received vaccines, or has recently tested negative.

The status could be displayed either through a smartphone app or a paper document to enable rules on social distancing to be relaxed to help businesses resume operations and audiences to return to events.

A pilot programme for mass events will test different approaches to social-distancing rules, ventilation, test-on-entry protocols and Covid passports. Initially, the certification will only involve testing but that will evolve to include vaccine status and natural immunity.

A review of social distancing will consider when families will be allowed to hug one another again and whether Covid passports could see distancing rules lifted.


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