A SECRET “traffic light” masterplan to ease Britain out of lockdown in three stages has been drawn up by government scientists.
The first steps towards normal life could begin within the next four weeks if infection rates begin to fall.
Ministers have refused to discuss publicly when and how they aim to end the £2.5billion-a-day lockdown, entering its fourth week on Monday.
They fear doing so would send out the message that the crisis is over and wreck all the hard-won gains. But they are privately considering slowly easing off the brake.
In the “red” phase, people will still be banned from many things they did before the outbreak, but a number of non-essential shops and businesses would re-open.
On “amber”, caution would still be required despite much more economic activity being unlocked.
This would be followed by the green light for much of normal life to resume — but with measures still in place to avoid infection.
However the old and vulnerable could face indefinite lockdown unless a vaccine is developed soon.
Some officials are concerned the over-70s and those with poor health may have to be shielded for up to 18 months, even when many of the restrictions have been lifted.
An insider said: “It’s going to be a slow path back. But just because we aren’t talking about it doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking about it.”
Senior officials are increasingly optimistic deaths and infections have reached their peak due to the NHS working wonders and the “stay at home” message being obeyed by the vast majority.
But a lifting of the lockdown will start only if that continues, testing targets are met and the prospect of anti-viral drugs is on the near horizon.
The first tentative steps are unlikely to be taken before May 11, according to documents seen by HOAR on Sunday.
This would allow small, non-essential shops and businesses to re-open, providing they observed strict social distancing.
Low-risk personal activities would be allowed, such as visits to hairdressers and shopping trips providing masks were worn. Nurseries would reopen.
The amber phase could be ushered in by June — but no earlier than May 25. It would lift the ban on car journeys and family visits.
Commuters would wear masks and gloves on public transport and hand sanitisers would be provided on trains. Work times would be staggered in order to minimise rush-hour crowding.
Small firms would be allowed to re-open, as would schools and libraries. Restaurants could serve again with strict seating plans to uphold social distancing.
The green phase is expected in July, but could come as early as June 15 if progresses is better than expected.
This would allow weddings and funerals to take place with larger groups.
Wearing of masks on public transport would still be compulsory and flights from high-risk countries would continue to be banned.
Even when pubs are allowed to open again, landlords will be ordered to hire bouncers to limit the number of customers and ensure social distancing is observed.
An insider said: “The NHS has done a terrific job and we really meant it when we said there is light at the end of the tunnel.”