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Families to be reunited in each other’s gardens at the end of March, under lockdown exit plan

Families will be reunited at the end of March – in time for Easter – and allowed to meet up in each other’s gardens, after key tests for the current danger posed by the pandemic were met.

Outdoor sports facilities, including tennis and basketball courts, will also reopen on 29 March, and organised sports – such as grassroots football – will resume, Boris Johnson will announce.

The moves will follow the start of the lifting of the lockdown in England on 8 March when, as expected, all schools will reopen in a controversial “big bang” approach.

From that date, people will also be allowed to sit down for a drink or picnic with one other person, instead of just meeting them for exercise, The Independent understands.

The two-part unwinding of some restrictions will be unveiled on Monday – alongside four new tests for future decisions, which Mr Johnson will insist will be taken “cautiously”.

They will be; no slowdown of vaccinations, that jabs reduce hospitalisations and deaths, that the NHS will not be overwhelmed and that new dangerous variants of Covid-19 do not take root.

Other curbs will then be lifted “step-by step across the whole of England at the same time”, as the earlier plan to return to local tiers of differing restrictions is abandoned.

Those steps will also be taken at further three-week intervals, to give ministers and scientists time to judge the effects of gradually increasing the amount of household mixing.

Ahead of a statement to the Commons, Mr Johnson promised people that “the sacrifices each and every one of you has made” would not be put in jeopardy.

“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step and we will be cautious about this approach, so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far,” he said.

“We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan.”

The reuniting of families for Easter is likely to buy the prime minister vital breathing space with anti-lockdown Tories, who have demanded an end to all legal restrictions by the end of April.

It will temper criticism if, as expected, no strict dates are set down for the reopening of non-essential shops and pubs and restaurants, or for holidays to be allowed.

Crucially, outdoor gatherings will be allowed under either the resurrection of the “rule of six”, or with two households meeting up.

This is designed to avoid a repeat of the penalising of larger families who fell foul of a strict limit of six people mixing.

Downing Street will argue the new rules are both a “sensible increase” in social contact, while recognising the pandemic has hit people unable to see loved ones the hardest.

It means the restriction that prevents anyone from travelling outside their local area, other than for work or medical reasons, is also likely to be scrapped.

The “big bang” reopening of schools comes despite the opposition of trade unions and, it was reported, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

Care home residents in England will be allowed one regular visitor from 8 March, it has already been announced.

The full details of the strategy were decided at a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers and government scientists on Sunday.

As well as the focus on education, Mr Johnson said he would “be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely”.

He will also publish the first official data on the success of the vaccines in reducing infections and transmissions, which are expected to be hugely encouraging.

With the epidemic currently in sharp retreat, he will again face calls from his own party to end all legal coronavirus restrictions “by the end of April”.

“At that point, people should be able to get on with their lives,” said Mark Harper, who leads the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs.

The 8 March unlocking flows from the success in offering vaccines to all 15 million people in the highest-risk groups by mid-February, with three weeks then allowed for immunity to develop.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, signalled the same approach in future, saying: “If you lift a measure and there’s more social contact it takes typically about a week for people to become symptomatic.

“It then takes another couple of weeks to be able to see the effect of that, because it’s not just one person passing to another, it’s if that chain continues.”

Mr Johnson will chair a virtual meeting of the full Cabinet, before unveiling the details to MPs on Monday afternoon. A vote will follow “in the coming weeks”.

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