Plans to ease Covid lockdown earlier were axed after Sage warning –

The Sage papers released on Monday showed that a range of scenarios, including several that would have seen lockdown eased earlier, had been modelled.

The most recent, drawn up earlier this month, would have seen non-essential shops, al fresco hospitality and outdoor attractions allowed to open as the Easter school holidays began. It would also have meant households would have been allowed one indoor visitor.

But scientists from Imperial College London said the timetable, which also would have brought the  full opening of hospitality and the return of household mixing indoors either in April or May, could have meant an extra 55,000 deaths. The scientists also warned that reopening schools could see the Covid ‘R’ rate rise by as much as 0.5.

On Monday, ministers announced that just a handful of the elements in the scenario would go ahead on March 29, allowing the “rule of six”, or two households outside, and the return of outdoor sport. The Government said it anticipated a rise in infections but that an increase in the ‘R’ rate alone would not be enough to derail the planned timetable.

The first reopening stage will be in two parts – March 8 and March 29 – while the second could begin as early as April 12, the third by May 17 and the fourth by June 21. These are “earliest” dates, with delays possible if the Covid situation dramatically worsens.

Mr Johnson stressed that he would be led by “data not dates” as he outlined how the country can only progress through each roadmap stage if it passes four tests – the vaccine rollout must be progressing as planned, vaccines must be lowering deaths and hospitalisations, cases must not be rising so fast that the NHS could be overwhelmed, and any new virus variants must not pose major new dangers.