By Pierre Briançon
Thousands queued up outside major retailers and gyms in the early hours of Monday as shops reopened in England, following the U.K. government’s plan for a gradual phaseout of the severe COVID-19 lockdown imposed since January.
Pubs and restaurants are now allowed to provide curbside service, and so-called nonessential retail has reopened as well as public buildings, gyms and outdoor attraction settings such as zoos.
Wider social contacts limits, notably the prohibition against mixing households, will remain in place until the last restrictions are lifted in the next two stages, on May 17 and June 21.
The government’s road map to ease the economy out of lockdown was made possible by a successful vaccination campaign that has seen 47% of the U.K. population receive a first shot of one of the available COVID-19 shots. That compares to 35% in the U.S. and 15% in the European Union.
The U.K. economy was the worst-hit in Europe last year, with a 10% fall of gross domestic product. Analysts now expect it to rebound earlier and faster than other comparable European countries.
The outlook: The government has warned that the next stages of easing would be conditional on a continuous decline of COVID-19 infections, and warned it is ready to change its plans if the risk of another wave of the pandemic materializes.
But as the vaccination rollout goes on, chances that the economy has embarked at last on real normalization have increased. Unless the U.K. is hit by vaccine supply problems. Its initial priority on first injections, and delaying the second dose, means it now needs dozens of millions of doses to complete the vaccination of the whole population.