Boris Johnson will announce his intention today to lift remaining lockdown restrictions on July 19 while warning that the public must “exercise judgment when going about our lives”.
At a press conference, the prime minister will push ahead with plans to return to normality and “restore people’s freedoms” in two weeks’ time, with social distancing rules scrapped, a return to large events and an end to compulsory masks in shops and on public transport.
A cabinet minister said yesterday that the government would now “move away from the state telling you what to do” and confirmed face coverings would become voluntary. The policy requiring pupils to stay at home if a child in their bubble tests positive for coronavirus will also end, it was confirmed.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, will set out the changes for England in the Commons before the press conference. Under the plans, which will be signed off at government meetings today, the one-metre-plus social distancing rule will be lifted, allowing people to order at the bar in pubs and theatres and cinemas to reopen at their full capacity.
It will no longer be necessary to scan a QR code to sit in a pub or restaurant, and venues will no longer have to collect customers’ data for NHS Test and Trace. Large events such as music festivals will be allowed. Ministers are also expected to relax the work-from-home order and ease restrictions on care home visits.
Johnson said last night: “Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our road map.
“[Tomorrow] we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach step four. But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks. As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks and exercise judgment when going about our lives.”
The prime minister is expected to say that the link between Covid infections and hospitalisations and deaths has been weakened thanks to the vaccines. He is expected to praise the nation for getting the virus under control while urging caution and calling for everyone to come forward for a vaccine.
Robert Jenrick, the housing and communities secretary, confirmed that compulsory facemasks and the school bubbles policy would be scrapped. “We’re going to have to learn to live with Covid now,” he told Times Radio yesterday. “It will be a different phase because we’re going to move away from the state telling you what to do, with very restrictive rules and laws to us all exercising our own good judgment.”
Jenrick said that 50,000 people in the nine most vulnerable categories had received their vaccine only in the past week because they came forward “relatively late in the process”. He called on others to have a jab. Ministers will also publish the findings of their social distancing and certification reviews today.
The final sign-off for the lifting of restrictions will come on July 12. Ministers say the decision depends on the continued success of the vaccination programme, evidence that vaccines are reducing hospital cases and deaths, and there being no risk of unsustainable pressure on the NHS and no changes to calculations because of virus variants. Today’s announcement will not include the policy on international travel.
The Office for National Statistics reported that one in 260 people in private households had coronavirus in the week to June 26 — the highest level since the week to February 27.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “When Sajid Javid addresses the Commons he must explain what level of mortality and cases of long Covid he considers acceptable. And what support will be in place for the most deprived areas where cases are highest and vaccination rates lowest.”
Helen Whately, the care minister, today said the visits to care home will not “completely go back to normal”. She told Sky News: “There will still have to be some precautions. It’s step by step, getting things as close to normal as we can while still protecting people who are at greater risk from Covid.”
Meanwhile, NHS England’s medical director said the health service is preparing itself to “learn to live with Covid”. Professor Stephen Powis told BBC Breakfast: “A&Es are busy again as life gets back to normal but we’re well used to coping with pressures, we do it every year and every winter.
“So we are prepared and, as you have seen over the last 18 months of the pandemic, the NHS will manage.” Powis also said people should continue to follow hygienic practices even after coronavirus restrictions had been lifted and use “common sense”. He suggested that he would still wear a face mask in crowded places after the rules are lifted.