Britain to ease England lockdown from March

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed a plan to relax coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England in stages, starting early in March.

Johnson announced the four-step roadmap in parliament on Monday.

In the first step, all schools will open from March 8. Outdoor gatherings of six or fewer people will be allowed from March 29.

The second step starts on April 12, allowing non-essential shops and hairdressers to reopen. Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers sitting outdoors.

Other restrictions are scheduled to be lifted in stages. The British government says June 21 is the earliest possible date for completing the process.

International travel will remain banned in principle until the second step is over.

During each stage, the government will consider whether to continue to the next step, based on data on the coronavirus vaccine program, infection rates and the situation regarding new coronavirus variants.

Johnson said the aim is for the plan to be "cautious but irreversible." He described it as a "one -way road to freedom."

The government says data on Britain's vaccine rollout program, which started in December, suggest that one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced hospitalizations and deaths of COVID-19 patients by at least 75 percent.

Britain also started using a vaccine developed by British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca last month.

The government says the data available on that vaccine is preliminary but encouraging.

Britain has reported a total of more than 120,000 deaths from the coronavirus, but the daily count of new cases has been falling.