UK mulls ending England’s coronavirus restrictions in 2 weeks
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled plans to lift nearly all of England’s pandemic restrictions from July 19, 2021 in a test of whether a rapid vaccine roll-out offers enough protection from the highly contagious Delta variant.
Johnson’s government had initially set June 21 as the date for England’s full reopening, but was forced to delay so-called “Freedom Day” because of a surge in the highly contagious Delta variant.
In spite of the UK reporting more new daily infections than the whole of the EU combined, the prime minister said on Monday: “We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.”
“We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal?” Johnson said during a news conference at 10 Downing Street.
Here are the 10 key areas in which the government will change its policy on coronavirus in England from July 19.
1) People will no longer have to legally wear face masks, but they will be recommended under certain circumstances. However, this will be a personal choice. Transport providers can still choose to require passengers to wear masks if they choose.
2) There will be no limits on social distancing or how many people can meet socially. This applies to weddings, funerals and in care homes, although enhanced infection control measures will apply.
3) There will be no limits on capacity at concert venues, restaurants, and pubs. Nightclubs and other businesses will also be able to open.
4) The government will work with the transport and holiday industries to allow fully vaccinated individuals to return from amber-list countries without quarantining.
5) There will be no restrictions on the number of people at large events such as sports matches and concerts.
6) To speed up the vaccine roll-out, the interval between doses for people under 40 will be reduced to 8 weeks from 12 weeks.
7) People will no longer need to work from home, but it will be up to individual employers to decide when employees should return.
8) The government will axe rules for employers on how to make their premises “COVID secure.”
9.) The government’s testing system for those with symptoms will continue, but free asymptomatic testing will be available until September.
10) People will still be required to self-isolate after testing positive or when instructed to by the government’s test-and-trace system. However, people who have had two vaccine doses will no longer need to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone with coronavirus.
Johnson added that his plan to end restrictions did not mean people should not proceed without caution, warning that a new variant current vaccines did not protect against could mean new measures might be needed in the future.
“I didn’t want people to feel that this is, as it were, the moment to get demob happy … it is very far from the end of dealing with this virus,” Johnson said.
“Obviously, if we do find another variant that doesn’t respond to the vaccines … then clearly, we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public.”
However, the government’s emphasis on personal judgment has faced criticism from some British scientists, who say hospitals could once again be over-stretched if the Delta variant is allowed to spread or new strains emerge.
The British Medical Association called on the government to retain some restrictions due to an “alarming” increase in the number of coronavirus cases, which is now approaching 27,000 cases a day.
“Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new ‘variant factories’ at a very fast rate,” said Susan Michie, a University of London psychology professor who specializes in behavioral science.
With the Delta variant now accounting for nearly all new coronavirus cases, the UK’s other nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are expected to lift measures more cautiously than England.
However, with more than 86 percent of adults in Britain having had their first jab and 63 percent their second, the prime minister said vaccination was helping combat the worst consequences of the virus’s spread.
As for concerns over the virus continuing to spread through unvaccinated children, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Britain was still weighing up whether the benefits of inoculating children outweighed the risks.
He said officials were still getting “all the data before they give final advice.” He added: “For any vaccine, what you want to be confident of is that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any risks of the vaccine for the children involved.”