LONDON — With his last three lockdowns failing to prevent mass death and economic hardship, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will Monday announce his plan to lift England’s current restrictions. He hopes this relaxation will prevent a fourth lockdown for his beleaguered country.
But unlike previous lockdowns — which critics say all came too late and were too brief — this time Johnson has what he hopes will be a secret weapon: one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns.
With that in his sails, he will detail his roadmap for ending England’s current lockdown, which started Jan. 4 (the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland dictate their own healthcare policies, which have often differed slightly).
Johnson said in a statement on Monday that he would be releasing restrictions “cautiously” and said it was mindful that “we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe.”
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
The current restrictions were fueled at least in part by the new, more transmissible variant that is now sweeping the United States and elsewhere.
For almost two months, British pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops have been closed, schools are closed for most students and offices are off-limits for many people, indoor and outdoor gatherings are prohibited, and foreign vacations are illegal.
On Monday, Johnson will tell lawmakers in the House of Commons that schools will reopen on March 8, and people can meet one relative or friend outdoors, so long as vaccines continue and hospitalizations don’t surge, according to a government statement.
Last year, Johnson’s government endured a torrent of criticism for its lockdown strategy: yo-yoing between imposing and lifting restrictions in a bid to balance deaths and the economy — but ultimately achieving neither.
More than 120,000 people have died in the U.K., higher per capita than in the U.S.
But whereas Johnson’s popularity crashed last year, in recent months it has rebounded, driven by a vaccination campaign that has seen it administer more shots than any other major country.
Still some experts are worried that again the U.K. is repeating its past mistakes in ending the lockdown too soon before cases have fallen to lower levels.
“Do you sometimes feel you’re stuck in one of those movies where you know about a disaster that’s going to happen, and you live the same day again and again trying to prevent it and failing each time?” tweeted Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.