Almost all lockdown restrictions were lifted in England on Monday despite an increase in Covid-19 cases, warnings of supermarket shortages and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s forced self-isolation.
Although UK Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned of potential ‘problems’, masks will no longer be needed from Monday, dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ by some sections of the media.
Nightclubs and sporting events will also be free to operate at full capacity in England, and the government will no longer advise people to work from home.
In other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – decentralized governments are taking more cautious steps and will not fully reopen.
Johnson made a quick political turnaround on Sunday and his Downing St. office said he would spend 10 days in self-isolation after coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient – reversing an earlier announcement that he would not have not to self-quarantine which was met with widespread dismay.
Johnson and Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak were alerted overnight by the UK telephone test and traceability app. Johnson had a meeting on Friday with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. Javid, who has been fully vaccinated, said he was showing mild symptoms.
Johnson’s office initially said he and Sunak would undergo daily coronavirus tests as part of an alternative system being piloted at certain workplaces, including government offices.
Less than three hours later, after an outcry over apparent special treatment for politicians, Downing Street said Johnson would isolate himself at Checkers, the Prime Minister’s country residence. He said Sunak will self-isolate as well.
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Johnson’s big day was also marred by ‘pingdemic chaos’ as a National Health Service app ordered hundreds of thousands of people to self-isolate – warning supermarket shelves could soon be emptied as businesses across England faced a shortage of workers.
“If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it? Johnson said in a video posted on social networks.
“Now is the right time, but we have to do it with caution. We must remember that this virus is unfortunately still there. “
Britain recorded 54,674 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday – its highest daily number since January. However, deaths from the disease remained relatively low. More than 128,000 people across the UK have died from the disease, the highest death toll in Europe.
About 67.8% of adults, or just over half of the total population, received two doses of the vaccine.
Despite repeated assurances from the government about the vaccine rollout, medical experts have warned that “Freedom Day” could be a threat to the rest of the world.
More than 1,200 scientists backed a letter in British medical journal The Lancet criticizing the government’s decision while warning that the strategy could allow the development of vaccine-resistant variants.
Whitty also warned that the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 could reach “pretty frightening” levels.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly quickly,” he said in a webinar hosted by the Science Museum on Thursday.
The families of many people who have died from Covid-19 in Britain have also criticized the government’s plan.
“The overwhelming scientific consensus is that lifting the restrictions on Monday will be disastrous, and bereaved families know firsthand how tragic the consequences of unlocking too early can be,” Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid- 19 Bereaved Families for Justice. .
“There is a real fear that once again government thinking will be guided by what is popular rather than the interests of the country,” he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed.