(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks as they walk through the city centre, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester, Britain, June 21, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble
By Alistair Smout and William James
LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday set out his plans to end social and economic COVID-19 restrictions in England in two weeks, in a test of whether a rapid vaccine rollout offers enough protection from the highly contagious Delta variant.
Johnson confirmed the government aimed to end restrictive measures on July 19, with a final decision to be taken next week. He said the step would eliminate formal limits on social contact, the instruction to work from home, and mandates to wear face masks.
After imposing the most onerous constraints on behaviour in Britain’s peacetime history to battle the novel coronavirus, Johnson is betting the vaccination programme, which has weakened the link between infections and hospital admissions, can prevent the health service being overwhelmed by a new coronavirus wave.
Under plans, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen and there will be no limits on capacity of hospitality venues. Social distancing guidelines will be scrapped.
“We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal?” Johnson said at a news conference.
“We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus,” Johnson said.
Johnson sets health policy for England, but not for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Britain has suffered the seventh highest global death toll from COVID-19, and Johnson has been accused of being too slow to implement each of England’s three lockdowns.
But the take-up of vaccines in Britain has been strong, with 86% of adults receiving a first dose and 64% receiving two doses as of Monday, according to government data.
Johnson also said that people under 40 would be invited for their second COVID shots from 8 weeks after their first dose, rather than 12 weeks, bringing it into line with the policy for over-40s.
Public Health England figures indicate that the vaccines are highly effective in preventing the Delta variant leading to severe illness or hospital admission.
Return to normal? UK PM Johnson outlines end to England’s virus restrictions
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