Boris Johnson to revoke hundreds of Covid regulations and make England the freest society in Europe from July 19 despite new cases could reach 50,000 a day before masks and social distancing are abandoned.
In a sign that the government could reimpose restrictions this fall, the prime minister however cautioned the public against being “de-mob happy”. He said the opening – including lifting all limits on sporting events and nightclubs – would be safest during the summer school holidays and did not say the changes would be irreversible.
Johnson said at a press conference in Downing Street: “We have to be honest with ourselves that if we cannot reopen our company in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the onset of summer and through the school holidays, we have to ask ourselves: when can we get back to normal?
He said the purpose of revoking the rules was “to move from a diktat of universal government to relying on the personal responsibility of people,” but added: “Obviously if we find another variation that doesn’t respond to vaccines, if, God forbid, new really horrible bugs are expected to appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the public. “
The planned changes announced by Johnson on Monday are expected to make England an outlier in much of the rest of the world where restrictions remain to fight infections. The so-called “big bang” reopening was described as reckless by Labor and the abandonment of the legal obligation to wear masks provoked a reaction from bereaved families and regional mayors.
Companies that choose to impose mask wear should take legal advice on their responsibilities under the equality law, Downing Street said.
The only remaining regulations will be an isolation requirement after testing positive for Covid-19, as well as restrictions on international travel and mandatory social distancing at airports and other ports. Public health directors will also retain certain powers to act in crisis situations.
Johnson also announced an acceleration of vaccination for those under 40, who will see the difference between doses increase from 12 weeks to eight weeks in line with those over 40. This means that each adult will have been offered two jabs by mid-September. There will no longer be a specific recommendation for working from home and restrictions on the number of appointed visitors to nursing homes will be lifted.
The final decision to remove the remaining restrictions will be made next week, but Johnson said that was the firm direction of the trip. Plans will also be announced this week allowing those who have been doubly vaccinated to avoid quarantine rules when contacted by the NHS test and trace or upon returning from Amber List countries, although start dates of these measures have not yet been revealed.
Health secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons that schools should expect to stop sending “bubbles” of children home from July 19, in time for many camps summer vacation for children.
Alongside the Prime Minister, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned the epidemic was “large and growing”. As hospitalizations increased, modeling suggested the health department would be able to handle the pressures, Whitty said.
“What the modeling would imply is that we will reach that peak before we get to the point where we have the kind of pressures that we saw in January of this year. But inevitably, with all models, you have to say that there is some degree of uncertainty, ”he said.
He said he expected the coming winter “to be very difficult for the NHS and I don’t think this is a particularly controversial statement”, saying health services would face the additional pressures flu and waiting lists.
No source said emergency measures to deal with a significant rise in infections in the fall would depend on booster injections and surge testing and include the possibility of wider use of Covid passports for mass events. “The goal is to avoid any repetitions of the kind of restrictions we saw last year,” a source said.
Ministers will retain the power to “reimpose economic and social restrictions at the local, regional or national level” if necessary to remove a dangerous new variant, according to a Whitehall document released on Monday.
These measures would be a “last resort to avoid unsustainable pressure on the NHS,” the government said. He also said Covid Status Certificates could be introduced in the fall or winter “if the country is facing a difficult situation” in order to keep events and businesses open.
Keir Starmer called Johnson’s announcement “management of the party, not the public interest.” Former Johnson adviser turned chief critic Dominic Cummings said the PM was in ‘let it rip’ mode.
NHS representatives also reacted angrily. Jude Diggins, Acting Director of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This disease does not go away on July 19th. No vaccine available is 100% effective… Wearing a public mask is simple and well established – the government will regret the day it sent the wrong signal of political expediency.
But Conservative MPs announced the change by shouting “hallelujah” in the House of Commons.
The government announced on Monday 27,334 more cases of Covid in the UK, with nine deaths within 28 days of a positive test. Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said data showed vaccines had “weakened the link between cases and hospitalization … [it’s] not a completely broken link ”.
Johnson, Vallance and Whitty have all said they will continue to wear their masks in crowded spaces or if others so request, as opposition to the decision mounted from mayors and regional unions.