Boris pushes the button on ‘big bang’ Freedom Day unlocking with laws on social distancing and masks AXED from July 19, NO limits on gatherings and WFH orders ending – but PM puts off key decisions on self-isolation, school bubbles and travel quarantine
- Boris Johnson is pushing the button on Freedom Day in England saying country must learn to live with Covid
- The PM confirming plan for a bonfire of virus rules on July 19 subject to a final approval a week beforehand
- One-metre plus edict and the work from home order will be dropped, with mask wearing no longer mandatory
- Pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at bar
- Decisions on school bubbles and quarantine rules for double-jabbed to ‘amber list’ countries due later in week
- But the self-isolation requirement for fully vaccinated who get pinged seems unlikely to lift from July 19
What should happen from July 19 ‘Freedom Day’?
No legal limits on social contact, all remaining businesses to open, one metre plus rule dropped.
Masks will no longer be legally required, but guidance will recommend them in some circumstances.
Advice to work from home where possible will be dropped, with individual firms able to decide the pace and level of return to offices.
No legal requirement for use of ‘Covid certificates’ at bars and restaurants etc.
The PM intends to remove self-isolation rules for double jabbed, but it remains a legal requirement for now and more details in due course
Grant Shapps is working with the travel industry on ‘amber list’ quarantine rules for the double jabbed, with an update expected later this week.
An update on plans to axe school ‘bubbles’ for isolation is also due later this week.
Boris Johnson pushed the button on a ‘big bang’ Freedom Day unlocking tonight with social distancing rules, mask laws and the work from home order set to go.
In a bold shift despite daily Covid cases rising a fifth in a week to 27,000, the PM told a Downing Street briefing that they could hit 50,000.
But he insisted even though the pandemic ‘certainly won’t be over’ by July 19 the government will no longer issue ‘top down’ orders, and people must use their common sense to manage the risks.
Mr Johnson insisted he had to ‘balance the risks… the risks of the disease, and the risks of continuing with restrictions’.
‘If we cannot reopen our society in the next few weeks… when will we be able to return to normal?’ he said.
The one-metre plus decree and advice to work from home where possible will be dropped, with mask wearing no longer mandatory – while pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at the bar.
Mr Johnson also said limits on gatherings are going and torpedoed the idea of legally requiring ‘Covid certificates’ at bars and restaurants, with the vaccination drive instead being trusted to do the heavy lifting of protecting the public.
However, although the premier said he intends to replace self-isolation with testing for anyone who is double jabbed and comes into contact with a positive case, he did not say when that would happen and it is understood it will probably be after July 19. Children would also be covered by the arrangements.
Mr Johnson also said an announcement will be made later in the week on dropping the ‘bubble’ rules that have been causing chaos in schools. The signs are that the change will only take effect at the start of next term in September.
And he stopped short of confirming that quarantine requirements for ‘amber list’ countries will be waived for double-jabbed Brits from July 19. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to make an announcement later in the week.
The plan for the final stage of the roadmap will be subject to a final approval next Monday, although it appears it would take something extraordinary to change the PM’s mind at this stage. The UK today recorded another 27,334 cases – up nearly a fifth on the same day last week – but deaths remained in single figures at nine.
Meanwhile, doubts have been raised over whether mask-wearing will be completely scrapped this month, even though the law will fall away. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has refused to say whether he will keep the rules on the Tube, while Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has demanded a rethink to protect the vulnerable. Unions warned it would be ‘gross negligence’ to drop the requirement.
Government sources suggested that in theory train companies and businesses could keep demanding face coverings are worn, even if the law is changed. Nicola Sturgeon has also suggested that the rules could continue for longer in Scotland.
Asked whether he would keep wearing masks, Mr Johnson said it would ‘depend on the circumstances’ – pointing out that a crowded Tube train is very different from a deserted late-night service.
Prof Chris Whitty – flanking the PM as usual at the briefing – said he would don a covering if other people were ‘uncomfortable’.
As the coronavirus crisis reaches its latest crucial phase:
- The gap between vaccine doses is being reduced from 12 to 8 weeks for under 40s, with the aim that every adult is double jabbed by mid-September;
- The Duchess of Cambridge has been forced into self-isolation after coming close to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus – despite having no symptoms herself, both her vaccinations and testing negative four times in the past week;
- The government is facing a backlash from both sides of the masks debate amid fears the public will be bewildered if they are made voluntary but still recommended;
- A YouGov poll has found 71 per cent of Britons still want face masks to be mandatory on public transport, while 21 per cent back dropping the rule;
- Taxpayers could be left to foot the hotel quarantine bill for thousands of people arriving in the UK from red list countries who cannot afford the £1,750 cost;
- The Queen has awarded the George Cross to the NHS for seven decades of public service and the battle against the virus.
In a bold shift despite daily Covid cases rising a fifth in a week to 27,000, Boris Johnson told a Downing Street briefing that the government will no longer issue ‘top down’ orders after July 19 and people must use their common sense to manage the risks
Boris Johnson pushed the button on a ‘big bang’ Freedom Day unlocking tonight with social distancing rules, mask laws and the work from home order set to go
Boris Johnson (right) and new health secretary Sajid Javid (left) were both attending a service to mark the 73rd anniversary of the NHS today
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has refused to say whether he will keep the rules on the Tube, while Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has demanded a rethink to protect the vulnerable (pictured)
Sadiq Khan has suggested that face masks could still be required on the Tube even if the national rules change
After ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19 the wearing of face masks is set to become a personal choice in England
Boris Johnson tonight firmed up plans for unlocking England on July 19.
The PM used a press conference to confirm a bonfire of virus rules and restrictions from the so-called Freedom Day, saying individuals will again be able to judge the risks of coronavirus for themselves.
However, he did not have any decisive announcements in key areas, with no date for quarantine requirements to be waived for double-jabbed Brits travelling to ‘amber list’ countries.
There was also no confirmation that self-isolation can be replaced with testing for the fully-vaccinated.
And although there was a clear intention for bubble rules in schools to be axed, it is not expected to happen until September when the new term starts.
WHAT THE PM ANNOUNCED:
Pubs and restaurants
Hospitality venues in England will no longer be required to collect track and trace data from July 19. Businesses won’t have to ask customers to scan a QR code using the NHS phone app on entry or to hand over their contact details, although they will have the option of continuing to do so if they wish. Mandatory table service rules will also be scrapped, meaning drinkers will be able to order at the bar again in pubs.
Wearing masks will become voluntary everywhere apart from hospitals and other health facilities from July 19 in England. Public transport passengers, shoppers and those visiting pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will no longer be required by law to cover up. However, people may still be encouraged to wear masks in some enclosed places where they come into close contact with each other, for example on London Tube trains.
Work from home
The official guidance telling people to ‘work from home if you can’ will be scrapped on July 19 in England. But it will be left up to employers and their staff to decide whether they have to go back to their desks. Ministers will not launch a campaign encouraging staff back to the office and are resigned to there not being a mass return to workplaces this summer.
AND WHAT THE PM DIDN’T ANNOUNCE
Ministers have been working on a system to open up holiday destinations for double-jabbed Britons.
People who have had both vaccine doses could no longer have to quarantine for ten days after visiting amber list countries, such as Spain, France and Greece.
However, there is not set to be any definitive news on the rules tonight and Government sources have cautioned the July 19 date is ‘ambitious’.
TEST AND TRACE
Pressure has been growing for people who have received both coronavirus vaccine doses to be spared isolating at home for ten days if they have come into contact with someone who tested positive.
They could be offered lateral flow tests to do themselves at home instead.
However, ministers have not come to a conclusion on whether to go ahead, and it is understood a new system is very unlikely to be in place for July 19.
The bubbles system that has seen whole classes or year groups sent home if just one pupil tests positive for coronavirus will be scrapped in England.
Ministers are planning to announce a new way of handling outbreaks, but few expect it to start until the new school year in September.
Instead of sending children home en masse, those who have come into contact with a positive case are likely to be given daily tests.
Putting his faith in the vaccines, Mr Johnson said: ‘We’re seeing rising hospital admissions and we must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from Covid.
‘In these circumstances we must take a careful and a balanced decision.
‘And there’s only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to step four in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further, and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.’
He said the expectation remains that by July 19 every adult in the UK will have had the offer of a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and two-thirds will have had a second dose.
And he highlighted that lockdowns ‘inevitably take their toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, on people’s health and mental health’.
‘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?’ he said.
‘And to those who say we should delay again – the alternative to that is to open up in winter when the virus will have an advantage, or not at all this year.’
Speaking at Downing Street, science chief Sir Patrick Vallance warned that ‘deaths are increasing’ and ‘we would expect that to continue’ as Covid cases rise, as he said people must ‘behave accordingly in terms of trying to limit transmission’.
Sir Patrick said infections are ‘going up’ and ‘the link between cases and hospitalisations and cases and deaths is weakened but not completely broken, and we would expect to see some further increase’.
He said ‘we are in the face of an increasing epidemic at the moment and therefore we need to behave accordingly in terms of trying to limit transmission’.
Government sources admit there is a ‘degree of risk’ in going ahead with the unlocking while cases are increasing.
However, Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick are understood to be among those arguing that ‘if not now then when’.
There are concerns that loosening restrictions in the autumn and winter when respiratory diseases are typically more prevalent could be more risky.
Pressure was ramped up on Mr Johnson to act on self-isolation rules today as it emerged the Duchess of Cambridge has been ordered to stay at home for 10 days after coming into contact with someone who tested positive.
The royal has received two vaccine doses, has no symptoms and repeatedly tested negative for coronavirus.
However, it is understood ministers are yet to take final decisions on whether self-isolation can be dropped for those who are fully vaccinated.
The government is weighing up whether there is a benefit to holding off while cases are running high, and there could be logistical challenges about providing testing.
Even if it goes ahead, a testing regime to replace self-isolation for the double-vaccinated is very unlikely to be ready for July 19.
Tory MPs voiced alarm that the public faces a confusing situation and urged the premier to be ‘crystal clear’ about what is allowed.
Former minister Steve Baker told MailOnline: ‘Of course the government should be crystal clear what people are and are not required to do with facemasks.
‘If it is a matter of personal choice the government will need to clearly and without spin put the facts before the public about the implications and consequences of wearing and not wearing a mask.’
Speaking before his announcement, Mr Johnson said people would have to ‘exercise judgment’ to protect themselves from coronavirus.
‘Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our road map,’ he said. ‘Today we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach Step 4.
‘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 from Covid and exercise judgment when going about our lives.’
Before Mr Johnson’s appearance the Cabinet’s Covid committee will meet to finalise the plans for the final step of the roadmap out of lockdown to give businesses and the public time to prepare.
Amid signs of local divisions on the shape of the rules, Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: ‘I struggle to see how Ministers can drop the requirement to wear masks on public transport without causing real problems for some people who are dependent on it.
‘Those more vulnerable to infection or anxious about it will be put in a very unfair position.
City Hall sources said Transport for London could in theory set conditions of carriage relating to face coverings, but they suggested this would be ‘very difficult’.
A spokesman for Mr Khan said: ‘Evidence shows that the wearing of facemasks gives many Londoners the confidence that they can travel safely on public transport.
‘People feeling confident they can travel on our Tubes, buses and trains as they get busier will be a vital part of encouraging more people into central London as restrictions are lifted further, and it is something that we will continue to look at closely.’
The Scottish government has said there will be an ‘ongoing need’ for face coverings when all restrictions are lifted north of the border on August 9.
It said that while measures were ‘under review’ people could still be expected to wear masks on public transport and in shops.
Pressed on the mask issue on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Whately said: ‘I don’t know that I will be ditching it entirely.
‘I anticipate that there may be times when it is appropriate to wear it if I am somewhere that is crowded… I don’t expect to be wearing it so much.’
Asked what she would do on a commuter train from Kent to London, she said: ‘If there is a sort of environment where it is crowded I think I might.’
Ms Whately also said the requirement of face masks in health and care settings will continue following the final stage of the road map out of lockdown.
‘I’ll be looking at the guidance, I’ll be making a judgment, but I’m not keen to wear one when I don’t need one – personally, it’s not something I enjoy doing,’ she told Times Radio Breakfast.
‘But I’m also really aware that there will be circumstances, I’m expecting to continue in health and social care clearly, where people will need to continue to wear PPE, which includes masks.’
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said people should continue to be sensible even if formal restrictions are lifted.
Asked if he would still voluntarily wear a mask, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’ll be following the guidance as I have throughout.
‘There may be occasions in the next few months in a crowded environment where I might choose to wear a mask and I’m sure others will make similar choices.
‘I think people have gotten very aware of infection control and good hygiene over the last 16 months.
‘Some of the habits we’ve developed – washing hands more frequently, not going to work or not going to see people if you are feeling unwell – those are habits that it would be really great to continue because it will keep Covid under control, but also other infections as well.’
He added: ‘Many people will use common sense and if they want to be cautious, particularly over the next few weeks as infection rates are still high, then wearing a mask would be very appropriate.’
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) said he was anxious about mixed messaging on masks.
‘I think we need very clear messaging and I think in certain spaces – crowded, badly ventilated spaces – masks are crucial mitigation,’ he said.
‘Not lockdown, but support and proportionate mitigations to keep us safe. Along with the vaccine, that’s the way out.’
Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: ‘To end the requirement to wear masks on public transport would be an act of gross negligence by the government.
‘Rates of infection are continuing to increase and not only does mask wearing reduce transmissions it helps provide reassurance to drivers and to passengers who are nervous about using public transport.
‘The idea of personal responsibility and hoping that people will wear masks is absolutely ridiculous, members are already reporting there is an increase in passengers ignoring the rules on mask wearing.
‘Until rates of Covid-19 are fully under control, throughout the whole of the UK, the rules on mask wearing on public transport should remain in place.’
At the same time as the PM addresses the nation, Health Secretary Sajid Javid will take responsibility for announcing the Government’s plans to Parliament.
It follows stern rebukes from Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle in recent weeks for ministers deciding to make statements to the press before MPs.
As well as publishing the taskforce reviews, an update will also be provided on what is next for care home visits.
Care home visiting is unlikely to ‘completely go back to normal’ following the final stage of the road map out of lockdown, Ms Whately said.
‘We will be taking some more steps as part of Step 4 of the road map,’ she told Sky News.
‘I don’t think visiting will completely go back to normal. 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.’
Labour said the Government must declare how many Covid-related deaths it is willing to accept in the face of rising cases of the Indian strain – also know as the Delta variant – if restrictions are abolished.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘We are all desperate to move on from restrictions but with infections continuing to rise steeply thanks to the Delta variant, Boris Johnson needs to outline the measures he will introduce such as ventilation support for building and sick pay for isolation to push cases down.
‘Letting cases rise with no action means further pressure on the NHS, more sickness, disruption to education and risks a new variant emerging with a selection advantage. So far ‘learning to live with the virus’ had been no more than a ministerial slogan.
‘Now we know this is the Government’s strategy, 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. These are important questions ministers now must answer.’
Downing Street said Mr Johnson would reiterate that Covid will become a virus that we learn to live with ‘as we already do with flu’.
A spokesman said: ‘This means that hospitalisations, serious illness and deaths from Covid will continue, albeit at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme.’
Step four of the roadmap had been due to happen on June 21, but was delayed by four weeks so more people could be vaccinated. Almost two thirds of adults have now received both doses.
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick yesterday said that Britain’s coronavirus data was looking ‘very promising’.
The Communities Secretary pledged that in the next phase the ‘state won’t be telling you what to do’, with individuals exercising their own judgment on wearing masks.
The onus instead will be on ensuring that ‘every adult gets fully vaccinated’ to guard against rising hospital admissions and deaths, he told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday.
‘We are not going to put the Covid-19 virus behind us forever, we are going to have to learn to live with it,’ he said.
‘But thanks to the enormous success of our vaccine programme the fact that now we have got to the point where 83 per cent of adults in this country have had at least one jab, we should be able to think about how we can return to normality as much as possible.
‘The data that we are seeing that the Prime Minister is reviewing at the moment ahead of his decision point on the road map looks very positive.
‘It does seem as if we can now move forward and move to a much more permissive regime where we move away from many of those restrictions that have been so difficult for us and learn to live with the virus.
‘That does mean that we are going to have to treat it carefully, we are going to have to keep on monitoring the cases and we are going to have to ensure that every adult gets double-vaxxed because that is the key to keeping the virus under control as we move into the autumn and the winter.’
Some scientific experts have called for the rules on wearing face masks in shops and on public transport to be retained. But Mr Jenrick said wearing face coverings will be made a matter of choice and personal responsibility.
He said: ‘Like many people I want to get away from these restrictions as quickly as I possibly can and we don’t want them to stay in place for a day longer than is necessary.
‘We are going to, I think, now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions, the state won’t be telling you what to do, but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement. So different people will come to different conclusions on things like masks for example.’
Asked directly if he will ditch his mask should he be permitted to do so, the Housing Secretary said: ‘I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask. I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it. We will be moving into a phase where these will be matters of personal choice and so some members of society will want to do so for perfectly legitimate reasons.
‘But it will be a different period where we as private citizens make these judgments rather than the Government telling you what to do.’
Pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at the bar
Children have missed almost a billion days of school since the start of the pandemic, analysis by the Centre for Social Justice think-tank found. (Stock image)
A SAGE psychologist lashed out at Mr Javid’s ‘frightening’ plan to scrap lockdown by July 19 despite more than half of adults in England having received both vaccines – after the new Health Secretary urged people to live with coronavirus ‘as we already do with flu’.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the subcommittee advising on behaviour, wrote on Twitter yesterday: ‘It is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who still thinks Covid is flu, who is unconcerned at levels of infection, who doesn’t realise that those who do best for health also do best for the economy, who wants to ditch all protections while only half of us are vaccinated.
‘Above all, it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is ‘this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept”.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The Health Secretary did not say Covid was like flu. He said we need to learn to live with it and find ways to cope with it – in the same way as we do with flu.’
The broadside from the University of St Andrews academic comes after Mr Javid, who replaced disgraced Matt Hancock last weekend after the former Health Secretary was caught flouting lockdown with his mistress, called the health reasons for lifting restrictions ‘compelling’.
Setting out his priorities in a column for the Mail on Sunday, Mr Javid writes: ‘The first is how we restore our freedoms and learn to live with Covid-19. The second is to tackle the NHS backlog – something that we know is going to get far worse before it gets better’
Vaccination Nurse Lorraine Mooney gives a vaccination to a member of the public outside a bus in the car park of Crieff Community Hospital
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the new Health Secretary says the UK is ‘on track’ to escape almost every vestige of lockdown on July 19, adding: ‘We will have a country that is not just freer, but healthier, too.’
But he makes no secret of the challenges he faces as Health Secretary, admitting that he has ‘the biggest in-tray I’ve had at any department – and I’ve run five’.
The BMA fears ending lockdown will have a ‘devastating’ impact on on people’s health, the NHS, the economy and education. It wants some restrictions, such as wearing face masks in enclosed spaces, to remain in place beyond July 19.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chairman, said: ‘We are not asking for a full delay on July 19, rather a series of sensible, targeted measures that will help prevent transmission of the virus while having a minimal impact on people’s daily lives.’
However, other experts said masks have only reduced infection risk a ‘little’ and it is ‘probably the right time’ to consider ditching them.
SAGE adviser Dr Mike Tildesley told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think probably if we are going to remove them, July 19 when we are seeing really low numbers of hospital admissions and low number of deaths, is probably the right time to consider it.’
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