Boris Johnson has confirmed almost all coronavirus restrictions in England are expected to end on July 19 signalling a huge shift in the government’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic.
However, the prime minister also warned that coronavirus cases are predicted to be at 50,000 a day by the end of the month and said “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid”,
England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty expects that, with the added pressures of waiting lists and flu, winter “may be very difficult for the NHS and I don’t think that’s a particularly controversial statement”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said “lifting all restrictions in one go, when the infection rate is going up, is reckless”, and he criticised Johnson’s announcement as “party management, not the public interest.”
Shift to personal judgement and collective common sense
The BBC’s political correspondent Ben Wright said the “huge shift in the government’s Covid strategy” sees “rules, regulations and fines” replaced by a “reliance on personal judgment and collective common sense”.
Johnson, as well as Whitty, and England’s chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said they will continue to wear masks indoors and when appropriate, after the requirement to wear one in lifted.
Johnson said: “What we are trying to do is move from universal government ‘diktak’ to relying on people’s personal responsibility, clearly there’s a big difference between travelling on a crowded tube train and sitting late at night in virtually an empty carriage on the main railway line.”
Hospitalisations highest since February
The vaccine rollout has weakened the link between infections and hospitalisations but both are rising and causing concern. This is expected to accelerate when most remaining restrictions are lifted. Covid cases are already rising fast and currently doubling every nine days.
Channel 4 News reported (July 5) that the latest 24-hours saw UK Covid-cases rise by more than 27,000. Government figures revealed a jump in hospitalisations of 358 patients with Covid, taking the total number being treated to 1,905, “which is the highest number since early February.”
While the number of people dying with Covid remains low, with nine deaths reported in the latest 24 period, Vallance warned that the link between hospital admissions and deaths has been “weakened, not broken” by vaccines.
BMA urges government to keep targeted measures
Prior to today’s announcement, the British Medical Association (BMA) had urged the government not to “throw progress away” and to keep targeted measures in place after July 19, such as mask wearing in enclosed public spaces.
BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said on Saturday that case numbers “continue to rise at an alarming rate”, driven by the “Delta variant and an increase in people mixing with one another,” adding, “it makes no sense to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time.”
Nagpaul said the government promised “to make decisions based on data and not dates”, and “ministers must not now simply disregard the most recent, damning, numbers by rushing into meeting their new 19th July deadline.”
If not then, when? asks PM
Johnson told the Downing Street press briefing: “If we don’t go ahead now when we’ve clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link… when would we go ahead?”
He added: “We run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge, has an advantage, in the cold months, or again putting everything off to next year.”
Meanwhile, the new health secretary Sajid Javid was simultaneously informing MPs in the Commons about the government’s plan and signalling an announcement regarding rules for close contacts is imminent.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will announce their plans for lifting restrictions in the forthcoming days.
End of England’s regulations, masks and social distancing rules
Requirements for face masks and social distancing in England will cease on July 19. The end of the one-metre-plus rule will allow pubs and nightclubs, theatres and venues to reopen at full capacity with rules requiring table service at bars and restaurants ending, as too the need to check-in to venues.
Weddings and funerals will no longer be limited or restricted, choirs will be able to sing and large scale events won’t need certifying.
Council powers to enforce Covid rules will expire while limits on named care home visitors will be lifted and the government will no longer be advising people to work from home.
Self isolation for people who test positive for coronavirus and restrictions around international travel and at airports and ports will remain.