COVID-19: What's the UK's exit strategy out of lockdown? © Yui Mok/PA

COVID-19: What’s the UK’s exit strategy out of lockdown?

The UK has been subject to strict social distancing measures for more than three weeks, with experts due to review these in the coming days.

The Government is under pressure to reveal when it plans to lift coronavirus lockdown restrictions and how.

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But this process could take some time and be implemented in various stages.

So, how might lockdown be lifted, and what are the potential long-term effects of the social distancing measures?

What is the UK’s exit strategy?

No precise exit strategy has yet been announced, but experts are meeting this week to discuss what the process might be.

Ending the restrictions will be dependent on a significant slowdown of COVID-19, which has often been referred to as “flattening the curve”.

In recent days scientists have suggested the data indicates that we are approaching this downward trend.

How to stay safe during lockdown:

What might lifting the measures involve?

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said ministers need to do more to communicate the process with the public.

This is because although public support for the measures is high, “that is not going to continue indefinitely”.

Lockdown in London © Getty Images
Lockdown in London © Getty Images

Explaining that the restrictions would have to be lifted in stages, she told PA: “My understanding is that trying to get some kind of educational provision up and running again is a high priority for the Government.

“And so I one option would be to follow Denmark’s example and to allow some of the schools, particularly primary schools, to go back in a phased way where for example you might have half the class taught in the morning and the other half in the afternoon, with no parents or grandparents allowed anywhere near the school grounds, outside of the school.

“And the second one would be allowing some non-essential businesses to open up again.”

How could shops and other businesses reopen?

Prof Bauld said this could happen in a number of ways including the Italian model, which allows manufacturers reopening in a gradually, and the Austrian route, which is to allow a selected number of non-essential retail outlets, like DIY shops and garden centres, effectively to reopen.

She continued: “The other scenario which I don’t think government will ever go down – well will go down but not emphasise – is the priority group to keep the social distancing and isolation around – the shielded group.

“I think the advice is going to be that they should remain at home for quite some time.

“But there’s going to need to be very careful thinking about how that is done.”

Read more about the coronavirus:

Once the measures are lifted, will the virus come back?

The virus is still out there. Simply letting people resume their normal lives all at once will undoubtedly lead to a second wave of coronavirus cases and the re-introduction of severe restrictions.

So, the aim is to gradually relax the measures while keeping an eye on what happens with the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

However, this could also mean controls being lifted for short periods at a time, and being reinstated when needed to ensure the NHS can cope with the demand.

What about testing?

Experts agree that much more testing is needed to get the UK out of lockdown.

At present, the UK has no real grip on how many people are currently infected and what proportion may already be immune to the disease.

Read more about coronavirus testing:

The great hope is that an antibody test will soon prove reliable enough to be sold on the high street so that those people who have had the virus can resume normal life.

But so far none of these tests have been deemed good enough for widespread use.

Once the virus is circulating at a low level, experts also hope to return to contact tracing in the hope of controlling future outbreaks.

How soon before a coronavirus vaccine is available?

Experts across the globe agree that a vaccine seems to be the ultimate exit strategy.

But most think that it will be at least 12 months before one is available to protect against COVID-19.

Read more about coronavirus vaccines:

What are other countries doing?

The lockdown in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, was lifted after 76 days.

In Italy bookshops, stationery stores and shops selling baby clothes and supplies have been allowed to open nationwide, provided they could maintain the same social-distancing and sanitary measures required in supermarkets.

Some bookshops have reopened in Italy © Getty Images
Some bookshops have reopened in Italy © Getty Images

But some regional governors and individual shop owners have decided to keep their doors shut for now.

Spain has also started to lift some measures with people in manufacturing, construction and some other services being allowed back to work.

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But must follow strict safety guidelines, and the rest of the population must stay at home.