CAUTION is being urged in the region following the Prime Minister's announcement of a gradual easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

West Yorkshire Prepared, the region’s Local Resilience Forum, is urging everyone to continue doing all they can to prevent the spread of infection and protect each other.

Some restrictions are being relaxed from March 8 – such as schools returning and two individuals being permitted to meet socially outdoors – but the forum stresses that West Yorkshire is still experiencing higher than average Covid-19 rates and the risk of the infection spreading will remain for some time.

Robin Tuddenham, co-chairman of West Yorkshire Prepared, said: “While recognising there may be some disappointment that more restrictions haven’t yet been eased, we appreciate the cautious approach the Government is taking in this first phase.

"Infection rates in West Yorkshire still remain very high compared to the rest of the country, so we need to continue doing all we can to keep individuals and communities safe and help to reduce the spread of the virus. As the Prime Minister stated, local restrictions could be reintroduced in the future if infection rates start to increase again, so we must not become complacent."

People should continue to socially distance from those outside their household, wear a face covering where necessary and wash their hands frequently.

Dave Walton, who also co-chairs West Yorkshire Prepared and is deputy chief fire officer of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Our priority continues to be the safety of our region – whether that’s in schools, workplaces, communities or on public transport. Everyone in West Yorkshire has put a huge effort into reducing infection rates and keeping each other safe throughout this pandemic, and we must ensure this continues if we have any hope of returning to some kind of normality.”

The further roadmap set out by Boris Johnson includes, no earlier than March 29 - people will be allowed to meet outside, either with one other household or within the "rule of six", including in private gardens. No earlier than April 12 – all shops allowed to open; restaurants and pub gardens will be allowed to serve customers sitting outdoors, including alcohol; gyms and spas can reopen for individuals and households; hairdressers, beauty salons and other "close contact services" can reopen; libraries and community centres can reopen. No earlier than May 17 – people can meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors; six people or two households can meet indoors; remaining outdoor entertainment, such as outdoor theatres and cinemas can open; indoor entertainment such as museums, theatres, cinemas and children's play areas can open; No earlier than June 21 – all legal limits on social contact will be removed.

After the first stage next month, further lifting of the rules will happen if certain conditions are met – such as the vaccine rollout going to plan.

Bradford Council leader, Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, said following the announcement: "We are all keen for a relief from the restrictions which we have been living with for so long. I look forward to the day when we’ll, once again, be able to socialise and mix freely with family and friends. We have been through so much here in Bradford, but I’m keen to make sure that we don’t let-up in the efforts we are all making to keep the infection down. It is going to take time for the vaccine to have its full positive effect.

“We are still working through the detail of the announcement, in particular we need to know how testing will be organised in schools. We wait to see further detail from the Government on this. We also need greater reassurance from the Government of the additional support that will be made available to our local businesses. Many of our local businesses, especially those in the leisure and hospitality sector, are facing a huge struggle financially through no fault of their own. If lockdown is set to continue for these businesses then we strongly urge the Government to use next week’s budget to be clear with businesses on the urgent additional support packages that will be necessary.

“Inevitably vaccinating the whole country is going to take time so the Government must properly resource the Test, Trace and Isolate strategy which keeps the infection from escalating. That means that in the short term greater support is required for people to self-isolate to reduce transmission of Covid-19. The existing discretionary grant funding made to local authorities should match the level of demand. The discretionary scheme is particularly important for low income workers in jobs with an increased risk of transmission, such as drivers or people on zero-hours contracts and agency staff.”