Boris Johnson has predicted a “significant return to normality” across Britain by Christmas after months of coronavirus lockdown.
The prime minister claimed the four-nation approach had “proved its worth, time and time again” during the pandemic, as he urged Brits to “continue to pull together to beat this virus.”
Mr Johnson, appearing at a Downing Street briefing, did warn, however, that the virus could be “more virulent” in the winter months ahead and said extra cash is being made available for the NHS to prepare.
The latest scientific advice is that, across the UK, the R or infection rate remains between 0.7 and 0.9. In March, the R rate was estimated to be as high as 4.
The comments came as Mr Johnson announced a whole swathe of measures to relax lockdown further in England in the coming weeks.
The prime minister announced that south of the border it will be for employers to decide whether it is safe to return to work from August 1.
Mr Johnson also scrapped the advice to avoid public transport in England and detailed plans to extinguish local outbreaks of coronavirus to avoid another national shutdown.
‘Decisions in the end are taken by the elected politicians’, Boris Johnson says when asked if he is following advice of Vallance/Whitty in easing lockdown further in England
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) July 17, 2020
From next month in England, wedding receptions for up to 30 people can resume, and bowling, skating rinks, casinos and beauticians can reopen as long as they have measures in place to reduce Covid-19 transmission.
Pilots to reopen sports stadiums will include the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield from July 31 and the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival from August 1.
“It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest – possibly in time for Christmas,” Mr Johnson said.
He added: “It’s very important that we hope for the best. That’s what I’m trying to set out today — a plan where we hope for the best but plan for the worst.
“The way we’ve defeated the virus so far has been through the massive common sense of the British people and their ability to see what needs to be done, and to do it and that is how we reduce the number of deaths, number of hospital admissions, and have got the virus to the stage it is at.”
Announcing extra funding for the NHS, he said: “It is possible that the virus will be more virulent in the winter months – and it is certain that the NHS will face the usual, annual winter pressures.
“We have taken a number of steps therefore to get the NHS ready for winter.
“I can confirm that we are providing an additional £3 billion of funding to the NHS in England to get ready for winter. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funds.”
Mr Johnson was later quizzed over his poor approval ratings in Scotland for the handling of the crisis in comparison to Nicola Sturgeon, something which the prime minister disputed.
He said: “I think, actually, when you look at what’s happened during this crisis, there has been very good and very close collaboration across the UK between public health authorities, between the scientific and medical officers and actually the agenda that is being pursued by all parts of the UK beneath the surface has been very, very similar.
“It is thanks to the strength of the Union that actually we’ve had the response we’ve been able to to muster as one whole United Kingdom.
“Whether that’s our armed services bringing testing kits across the whole of the country, taking people in remote parts of Scotland to the testing centres or the might of the UK Treasury getting the furlough scheme up and running across the whole of the UK.”
He added: “People will want to try to make divisions and it’s quite right that there should be distinctive approaches in some aspects of the way we approach coronavirus, but there’s absolutely no doubt that the Union has proved its worth during this crisis, time and time again.
“It’s oldest most successful political partnership in the world and we certainly don’t want to see it broken up.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer met the announcements with caution, saying: “We all want society to reopen we all want our economy to start growing again, so we’ll look at the details of this plan.
“But this can’t be done on a wing and a prayer. It requires a credible plan and national leadership.”