Social Distancing, Masks Could Be Enforced Till End of Year: Report

Pedestrians wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk past a sign asking people to social distance, on Oxford Street in central London on December 20, 2020. - British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the government has imposed a strict Christmas lockdown in London …
NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images

Social distancing measures and mask-wearing could be enforced until the end of the year, despite Britain’s world-leading coronavirus vaccine progress.

Government sources have indicated that ministers are considering extending the period of restrictions in order to move England out of the third lockdown.

Some form of lockdown, restrictions, or social distancing measures have been in place since March 2020.

“The thinking is that social distancing will need to be in place for a long time to come,” a Whitehall source told The Times on Friday. “It has repercussions for the scale of any reopening. Restaurants, pubs, and offices will all need to be Covid-secure.”

“The more restrictions we have in place, like social distancing rules, the more we can do in terms of easing,” a government source also told the newspaper of record.

Sources have told the newspaper that several levels of restrictions are currently being discussed.

Britons have already been subject to various social distancing measures, ranging from limiting social gatherings, imposing social distancing of two metres (six feet) between people in public spaces, and dictating how many times a day a person may leave their house.

Last week, a leading health expert predicted that restrictions on public gatherings could be in place for the “next few years”. This week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warning people not to book summer holidays, yet — not even within the UK, suggesting that restrictions could still be in place domestically in six months’ time.

Public Health England also said on Friday that some restrictions could be in place until all adults in the United Kingdom have been vaccinated, or even beyond that.

Some 15 million people considered to be the most vulnerable are expected to be vaccinated by mid-February. As of Wednesday, the UK had given vaccine doses to more people than in the entire 27 countries of the European Union combined, putting the British government on course to meet its first vaccine targets.

Boris Johnson’s administration was forced to recommit to February 22nd as the date on which the prime minister would set out the roadmap for taking the country out of lockdown.

Earlier this week, the prime minister’s office appeared to “backslide” from that date. Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group Mark Harper MP said that the date was critical for allowing schools to plan reopening a fortnight later, adding “it is the ‘settled will’ of most MPs that pupils should be back in school on 8 March”.

“It’s crucial we don’t backslide on this,” he said.

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