Prime minister Boris Johnson has laid out his ‘one way road to freedom’ today (Feb 22) – but car dealerships in England will be disappointed to learn they will be closed to customers until April 12.
Car dealers will not be allowed to welcome customers into showrooms for the whole of the first month of the 21-plate change, operating via click-and-collect until mid-April.
It will mean test drives for new and used cars will remain off the table until at least April 12 and new and used car purchases will have to be made online.
- Q&A: When will car dealers be open again? Are car dealers non-essential retail? When can I test-drive a car?
Telling the House of Commons that schools will return on March 8 and outdoor gatherings of up to six people will be allowed on March 29, Johnson said non-essential retail would have to wait until April 12.
The PM said the moves were a ‘cautious but irreversible’ way to ‘reclaim our freedom’, but warned the ‘threat remains substantial’ from Covid-19 as numbers are only now falling below the first wave in April.
Making a statement in the Commons, the PM said: ‘The threat remains substantial, with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave in April.
‘But we are able to take these steps because of the resolve of the British people and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating more than 17.5 million people across the UK.’
Rachael Prasher, managing director of What Car?, said the announcement was ‘disappointing’ for the automotive sector.
‘Frustratingly, it is not just automotive retailers that lose out; in particular, automotive sales have an extraordinary value for the Treasury – measured at around £1.2bn in VAT for March alone.
‘The disappointment is even greater because automotive retail premises are typically large, open-plan spaces that have previously been proven to be operable in a Covid-safe manner.
‘While a target reopening date offers some hope, the scale of the issue faced by these businesses is clear: though online retail has grown significantly over the past 12 months, new car registrations for the sector were down by nearly 40 per cent in January, caused largely by the lockdown restrictions.
‘This pain will now be prolonged.’
On Friday, Vines BMW MD Sean Kelly told the Car Dealer Podcast that ‘April will be the new March’.
He said: ‘Irrespective if it’s click-and-collect in March, all that will happen is that the demand pattern will just be delayed.
‘I don’t think those purchases are going away and I think that once the good-news stories of vaccines and the reopening start, there will be such a ground swell of positivity and consumer confidence that April this year might just be the new March.’
The PM said five-week breaks between the lifting of each set of restrictions will allow ministers to assess the impact of each stage.
Johnson said that ‘no vaccine can ever be 100 per cent effective’, telling MPs in the Commons: ‘So, as the modelling released by Sage today shows, we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths.
‘And this would happen whenever lockdown is lifted – whether now or in six or nine months – because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccines.
‘There is therefore no credible route to a zero Covid Britain, or indeed a zero Covid world, and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing and the life chances of our children.’
In the first phase, all pupils in England’s schools are expected to return to class from March 8.
Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from that date.
A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin – with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
Other measures in the road map set out by the Prime Minister include:
– From April 12 at the earliest: shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens will reopen.
– From May 17 at the earliest, two households or groups of up to six people will be allowed to mix indoors and limited crowds will be allowed at sporting events.
– From June 21 at the earliest, all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted, larger events can go ahead and nightclubs could finally reopen.
Alongside the four-step plan, the prime minister launched a series of reviews – including whether people should be able to show if they have had a Covid-19 vaccine or a negative test.
The work will look at whether ‘Covid status certification’ could help reopen the economy by allowing people who have received a jab or a negative test result to do things that would not be allowed for those who could not prove their status.
In detail: What are the steps out of the lockdown?
Step one – from March 8
All pupils in all year groups can go back to the classroom from March 8, with outdoor after-school sports and activities also allowed to restart.
Also from this date, people will be permitted to have socially distanced one-to-one meetings with others outdoors in a public space – meaning friends and family members could sit down for a coffee or have a picnic in the park.
Care home residents will be allowed a single visitor, with visitors required to take a lateral flow test and wear personal protective equipment.
And what happens on March 29?
In the second part of the first phase, larger groups will be allowed to gather in parks and gardens from March 29 – when the ‘stay at home’ order will end, with messaging moving to ‘stay local’.
The ‘Rule of Six’ will return, meaning up to six people or two households will be able to meet outdoors.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts are also set to reopen at the end of next month, with organised adult and children’s sport – including grassroots football – able to return.
Step two – from April 12 (at the earliest)
At least five weeks after step one and no earlier than April 12, non-essential retail, personal care premises – such as hairdressers and nail salons – libraries and museums will be permitted to reopen.
Indoor gyms and leisure facilities, such as swimming pools, will also be allowed to reopen, but the requirements for social contact in indoor settings will continue.
This means people will only be permitted to visit a museum or exercise in a gym alone or with their own household.
Driving tests will be able to resume from this date as well.
Hospitality venues will be permitted to reopen but for outdoor purposes only, meaning restaurants and pubs will only be able to serve customers outside, where the Rule of Six or two households will apply.
The requirement for a substantial meal and curfews will both be scrapped, but customers will need to be seated when ordering food or drink.
Self-contained accommodation, such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, will also be able to reopen for overnight stays by households only.
Funerals will be able to continue with up to 30 people, while the number of people who can attend wedding receptions and wakes will rise from the current six to 15.
Step three – from May 17 (at the earliest)
In step three, which will be no earlier than May 17 and at least five weeks after the second step, the government will further ease limits on social contact.
Outdoors, the Rule of Six and two household requirement will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 people in parks and gardens will remain illegal.
Meanwhile, up to six people or a larger group from up to two households will be permitted to meet indoors, but this is subject to review.
Indoor hospitality – inside pubs and restaurants – is set to open up at this point, where the Rule of Six or two-household rule will apply, alongside entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas.
Remaining accommodation such as hotels, hostels and B&Bs will also be allowed to welcome people again.
Larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues, with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full, whichever is lower, will be allowed, while outdoors it will be 4,000 people or half-full, again whichever is lower.
Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals, and other life events will be permitted, such as bar mitzvahs and christenings.
Step four – from June 21 (at the earliest)
The last step will be no earlier than June 21 – and at least five weeks after the third step – when it is hoped that all legal limits on social contact will be removed.
It is also hoped that the final closed sectors of the economy, such as nightclubs, could be allowed to reopen, while restrictions on large events could also be eased.