The Prime Minister has confirmed his plans for removing all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Monday (5 July), Boris Johnson confirmed that all legal coronavirus restrictions including mask-wearing, social distancing and nightclub closures will end at Step 4 of the Government’s plan to ease England’s lockdown, which is expected to be on July 19.
The prime minister also announced that the gap between vaccine doses for the under-40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight in an acceleration of the rollout to allow all adults to be offered both jabs by mid-September.
What did Boris Johnson say?
Mr Johnson began his briefing by warning that the pandemic is "far from over and won't be over by 19 July”, adding that cases are still rising “fairly rapidly”.
He was speaking as there had been a further 27,334 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the Government said earlier.
Mr Johnson added that we must reconcile ourselves with the fact that there will “sadly be more deaths” from coronavirus.
However, he said that the vaccine rollout was the only reason that the Government could move to Step 4 of its plan to ease lockdown in England, and he asked that if we can’t reopen society during the summer months, then there was little chance of restrictions easing in the winter.
"As we come to the fourth step we have to balance the risks," he said.
"If we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, we must ask ourselves 'when will we be able to reopen?'" he said.
The prime minister then confirmed his plans to “live with Covid”:
- There will be no limits on social contact, meaning the end of the orders such as the “rule of six” and restrictions on guests at weddings and mourners at funerals.
- All remaining businesses will be able to reopen, including nightclubs, while capacity caps will be lifted and bars and restaurants will no longer be restricted to table service.
- The Government will no longer instruct people to work from home.
- The legal requirement to wear face coverings will be lifted, although guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in “enclosed and crowded places”.
- The “one metre plus” rule on social distancing will be lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border, where guidance will remain to keep passengers from red and amber list countries from mingling with other travellers.
- The limit on named care home visitors will be lifted but infection control measures will remain in place.
- There will be no compulsory use of Covid status certification – so-called domestic vaccine passports – although firms will be able to voluntarily use the system.
- The interval between vaccine doses for under-40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight - so everyone over 18 should be double-vaccinated by mid-September
- He added that this is in addition to an autumn programme for booster jabs for the most vulnerable
On the contentious topic of face masks, Mr Johnson said that while the government will end the legal obligation on wearing a face covering, guidance will suggest "where you might choose to do so".
He gave the example of crowded public transport as somewhere where you might consider wearing one.
He said he wants people to “exercise their personal responsibility” on the matter.
What did the scientists say?
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said that we are in the middle now of another increase in cases, with a doubling time of roughly nine days.
He added that this rise was mainly among young people but warned that it is spreading up the age groups.
"There is no doubt we are facing an increase in case numbers," he said.
The vaccine has weakened the link between cases and hospitalisations - but not completely broken it, he said.
Sir Patrick warned that deaths are increasing, albeit at low levels, and that he would expect those figures to keep going up.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said he would wear a mask in three situations:
- “any situation with close proximity to other people”
- “if I was required to by any authority”
- “if someone else was uncomfortable if I did not wear a mask”.
Shouts of ‘hallelujah’ in Commons
Alongside the press conference, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid addressed the Commons to update MPs on the changes.
There were shouts of “hallelujah” in the Commons as Mr Javid announced that all social distancing rules in England are to be dropped, and that there will be no restrictions on communal singing.
A total of 86 per cent of people in the UK have received at least one vaccine dose so far, while 50.1 per cent of the country is now fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Labour has called for the government to declare how many Covid-related deaths it is willing to accept in the face of rising cases of the Delta Covid variant if restrictions are to be abolished in favour of treating the virus like flu.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “So far ‘learning to live with the virus’ had been no more than a ministerial slogan.
“Now we know this is the Government’s strategy, when Sajid Javid addresses the Commons he must explain what level of mortality and cases of long Covid he considers acceptable.”
A version of this article was published on our sister title, NationalWorld