Boris Johnson will lift almost all legal restrictions on Covid from July 19 as part of a ‘freedom plan’ to be released next week.
The Prime Minister practically confirmed yesterday that he would give the green light for the reopening at mid-month, underlining the success of the vaccination program.
“It seems more and more clear… the speed of deployment of this vaccine has severed that link between infection and mortality and that is an incredible thing,” he said. “This gives us the possibility, we believe on the 19th, to move forward, cautiously, irreversibly.
Mr Johnson added that Britain was now in the ‘last stages’ of the lockdown. But, with cases still on the rise, he warned that some “extra precautions” may need to remain in place after so-called “Freedom Day” on July 19.
Last night it was claimed that health officials had made contingency plans involving possible Covid restrictions for the next five winters.
Tory MP Steve Baker hailed the plan to lift the restrictions from July 19 – but warned they were not to be reinstated in the coming months.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson practically confirmed yesterday that he will give the green light for the reopening in the middle of the month, highlighting the success of the vaccination program.
Mr Baker, vice chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “The ministers are giving me every indication that I will be happy on July 19.
“It’s great – there is nothing I would love more than to see the restrictions lifted this summer so we can all get a fresh start this fall.
“The problem is, I’m afraid I won’t be happy in the fall and winter when the health lobby is pushing for new lockdowns to manage the capacity of the NHS.
“We cannot sacrifice our freedoms – and I include the freedom to earn a living – to manage numbers on waiting lists and in hospitals. “
A final decision on lifting the restrictions won’t be made until July 12, but government sources said the plan will be released next week to give businesses and individuals more time to adjust.
Businesses such as nightclubs, which have been forced to close throughout the pandemic, will finally be allowed to reopen as part of the final round of easing on the delayed Freedom Day of July 19.
Formal guidelines for working from home whenever possible should be removed. But some scientists urge the prime minister not to encourage a quick return to work for the millions who spent much of the pandemic working from home
Ministers are increasingly convinced that he will end the legal requirement to wear face masks in stores, although they may still be required when visiting hospitals and nursing homes
The situation on public transport is still undecided, with the PM keen to make masks voluntary, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan is pushing for them to remain mandatory
The prime minister has prioritized the removal of the meter rule, as well as the rule of six on indoor socialization, which are seen as the biggest brakes on the economy.
Rules limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 30 will also be removed, and businesses such as nightclubs, which have been forced to close throughout the pandemic, will finally be allowed to reopen.
Ministers also set aside plans to legally require people to use vaccine passports to control entry to mass events, although organizers are allowed to set their own requirements for ticket holders.
No10 declined to comment on the “extra precautions” the prime minister plans to keep, though they certainly include onerous self-isolation rules for those who come in contact with an infected person.
But ministers are increasingly convinced he will end the legal requirement to wear face masks in stores, although they may still be required when visiting hospitals and nursing homes.
The situation on public transport is still undecided, with the Prime Minister keen to make the masks voluntary, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan is pushing for them to remain mandatory, and Chief Scientist Sir Patrick Vallance warning they may have to return in autumn.
Conservative MPs are increasingly concerned that the taste for freedom will be short-lived if cases continue to rise. Another 27,989 cases were recorded yesterday – the highest daily figure since January 22
Cabinet Minister Penny Mordaunt said yesterday: “If it comes down to choosing between shutting down the economy and wearing a face mask to enter a store, people will wear a mask. But I hope we don’t have to do this.
There is also still debate within government over whether to encourage office workers to return to their desks.
Formal guidelines for working from home should be dropped. But some scientists are urging the prime minister not to encourage an early return to work for the millions of people who have spent much of the pandemic working from home.
And Conservative MPs are increasingly concerned that the taste for freedom will be short-lived if cases continue to rise. Another 27,989 cases were recorded yesterday – the highest daily figure since January 22.
22 other deaths have been reported. Officials have admitted that daily cases could exceed 50,000 by July 19.
But ministers are encouraged that hospitalizations and deaths are increasing much more slowly than in previous waves of the virus.
While new infections are now increasing by more than 70% per week, deaths and hospitalizations are only increasing by about 11% each.
Over the past week, the number of daily deaths has averaged 16 – a fraction of the grim death toll recorded in January.
Yesterday, during a visit to the Nissan automobile plant in Sunderland, the Prime Minister said: “We are seeing a sharp increase in the number of cases, but this is not translating into a sharp increase in serious illnesses and deaths. “
He added: “We will want to come back to a world as close to the status quo as possible. Try to come back to life as close as it was before Covid. But there might be some things we need to do, some extra precautions we need to take.
Sources in Whitehall played down reports that on-off restrictions could continue for the next five years.
The health ministry has reportedly drawn up restriction plans for the next five winters, including the reintroduction of masks, social distancing and working from home to avoid further lockdowns.
A source from Whitehall acknowledged that this winter could be “difficult”, but the denied restrictions were to last for five years.
Miss Mordaunt acknowledged that some restrictions could come back this winter. She told Times Radio that she believed people “would be ready” for social distancing again if it meant keeping the economy open.
What’s in it, what’s wrong – and what’s in the balance
The Prime Minister has given his clearest indication yet that most of the Covid restrictions will be lifted from July 19.
Political writer Jason Groves examines what measures will work – and which could stay in place.
Meter ruler – The social distancing measure that makes most hotel businesses unprofitable by reducing the number of tables they can fill and restricting the number of office workers who can return to their desks.
The rule of six – Limit on the number of people who can meet inside.
External cap of 30 – Currently, only a maximum of 30 people can meet outside.
Face masks – Laws requiring people to wear face masks in stores, cinemas and restaurants.
Prohibition on going out in a nightclub – Nightclubs and discos were forced to close in March 2020.
Work at home – Formal advice on working from home whenever possible.
Self-isolation – The legal obligation to self-isolate for ten days if you come into close contact with someone who tests positive for Covid.
Medical masks – Face masks in hospitals and nursing homes.
Face cover in public transport – Boris Johnson wants to repeal the law and make them voluntary. But some scientists and London Mayor Sadiq Khan are pushing him to uphold the law.
Vaccine passports – The so-called Covid certification will not be legally required for mass events like music festivals and sports matches. But event organizers will be allowed to define their own entry rules.