Boris Johnson has confirmed that social distancing will be scrapped in England from 19 July as people will be asked to use their own judgement to manage the risk of Covid-19.
The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference on Monday that the restrictions would end despite concerns from scientists that the government is moving too fast.
However chief medical adviser Chris Whitty warned the NHS could still face a ‘very difficult’ winter, after it emerged that Covid cases were set to increase to 50,000 a day by so-called “Freedom Day”.
It came as London mayor Sadiq Khan called for masks to remain mandatory on public transport and argued that this would be the “simplest and safest” policy over the coming weeks. A new YouGov poll also found most British adults think mask rules should be kept for longer after other restrictions are lifted.
On Monday morning, care minister Helen Whately declined to say that Covid-19 was “under control” but argued that the government did not expect rising case rates to lead to a significant increase in hospitalisations due to the success of vaccines.
“That’s a critical difference now: so yes cases are going to continue to rise for a period, but we simply aren’t seeing the same steep rise in hospitalisations as we’re seeing in the past because of the vaccination programme,” Ms Whately said.
Amber list quarantine to be axed for double-jabbed
Boris Johnson also confirmed that the quarantine requirement will be scrapped for fully vaccinated travellers returning to the UK from an amber list country.
In a briefing from Number 10,the prime minister said the government is working with the travel industry to soften measures for double-jabbed arrivals – although red list restrictions would remain in place.
He said: “We will maintain our tough border controls including the red list, and recognising the protection afforded by two doses of vaccine, we will work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country.”
Schools ‘to move away from isolation bubbles’
Testing will end the need for schools to send entire class bubbles home, the prime minister said.
Boris Johnson told the Downing Street press conference: “The Secretary of State for Education will be announcing later this week how we will move away from sending bubbles home and move away from contact isolation for pupils so as to greatly reduce the impact on schools of Covid outbreaks.
“And obviously the way forward is with testing rather than by sending the bubbles home.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the announcement.
He said:“We are pleased that the prime minister has confirmed that the government’s current set of rules over Covid management in schools and colleges will change as part of the easing of restrictions under step 4 of the roadmap.
“The current requirement for close contacts of positive cases to be traced and asked to self-isolate is resulting in significant educational disruption on top of the disruption that children and young people have already experienced over the past 15 months.
“Given the rollout of the vaccine programme to the adult population it is no longer acceptable that children and young people should continue to pay such a heavy price in managing transmission of the virus.
“We look forward to the education secretary’s statement tomorrow about exactly how the rules for schools and colleges will change. We will be studying these plans in detail to ensure that there is absolute clarity, to raise any concerns from our members, and to ensure that any practical implications for schools and colleges are ironed out as soon as possible.”
NHS could face very difficult winter, says Whitty
Professor Chris Whitty warned that the winter “may be very difficult” for the NHS.
England’s chief medical officer told the Downing Street press conference: “The winter is inevitably going to be tricky and this winter the NHS is likely to have both Covid and some resurgence of other respiratory viruses that were suppressed by the degree of lockdown last time round.
“So I think we should be realistic and this coming winter may be very difficult for the NHS.”
Lockdown announcement welcomed by hospitality sector
The head of the trade body for the leisure and hospitality sector has said businesses will be “celebrating” the latest announcement on the lifting of lockdown restrictions.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “The prime minister’s announcement marks a major milestone in how England will come to live with Covid and will be celebrated by hospitality business owners and their staff across the country.
“For the vast majority of hospitality businesses, July 19 – if confirmed next week – will be the first time in 16 months that they have been able to realistically look to break even and move towards profitability.”
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “We have been encouraged by much of what the prime minister said today about what government restrictions will look like in the next phase of reopening.
“The end of social distancing; the end of the rule of six and table service for indoor mixing; no ban on mass events; the removal of the need to scan a QR code to enter venues; and the decision not to introduce Covid status certification – these are all very important steps that we have been campaigning for, because they are the restrictions which have decimated the night-time economy over the last 16 months.
“We were disappointed again, despite the positive noises, that the prime minister did not confirm that reopening would be going ahead on 19 July. As we commented at the time of the last decision on restrictions, one week is simply not enough time for businesses to plan to reopen – and it betrays the sense that the government doesn’t understand what it takes to reopen businesses after over a year without trading.”
‘Hallelujah’, cry Tory MPs as roadmap details confirmed
Over in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs shouted “hallelujah” as Sajid Javid revealed that mask-wearing and social contact restrictions would be lifted on 19 July.
The health secretary told MPs it would be the “biggest step of all, a restoration of so many of the freedoms that make this country great”.
He added: “Case numbers are high and they will go higher and they will go significantly higher and we need to be ready for that.
“But what is far more important is how many people are ending up in hospital and how many, sadly, are dying and that is where the vaccines have worked alongside the treatments that we now have that we didn’t have a year or so ago.
“It has meant that the link between cases and deaths has been severely weakened.”
Mr Javid continued: “There’s no absolutely risk-free way to move forward but we do need to start returning things back towards normal and learning to live with Covid.”
Sports venues set to return to full capacity
Sports venues in England are set to return to full capacity from 19 July after the government announced plans to ease the remaining restrictions on social distancing.
Crowds have either been kept out entirely or allowed in severely restricted numbers since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the UK in March last year. Test events with higher attendances have been held as part of a government programme since April.
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PM urges England fans to be “responsible” this week
Boris Johnson urged England fans to be “sensible” while watching the Euro 2020 matches – which will take place before restrictions are lifted on 19 July.
“Obviously support England enthusiastically – but in a responsible way,” he told the Downing Street briefing.
Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance sought to downplay the risk of a “super-spreading event” at Wembley this week by saying outdoor spaces such as football stadiums were safer than indoor spaces.
All over-18s to be double-jabbed by mid-September, says PM
Boris Johnson said the government was aiming for everyone over 18 to be “double jabbed by the middle of September”.
He said this is in addition to the autumn programme of booster jabs for the most vulnerable.
He told a Downing Street press conference: “We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.”
‘I will still wear a face mask after 19 July,’ says Chris Whitty
Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, says he will continue to wear a mask after restrictions end on 19 July.
He says this would apply in a crowded indoor space “because masks protect other people”, or “as a point of common courtesy” if he would otherwise make someone uncomfortable. He would also do so if required by an authority.
Boris Johnson also adds that he would wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces.