Boris Johnson has confirmed plans to suspend all coronavirus restrictions in England from July 19, despite rising cases across the UK.
The prime minister told the nation that rules on social distancing, face coverings and working from home will all be lifted south of the border in a fortnight’s time.
The rule changes will see nightclubs able to re-open, rules governing seating requirements at pubs lifted and limits on those able to attend theatres, concerts and sporting events scrapped.
Limits on the number of named visitors for care home residents will also be abolished.
The UK Government is also set to work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate from an amber country.
Officials acknowledged that Covid-19 cases and deaths would continue to increase – albeit at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme – but it was now necessary to find a new way to live with the virus.
Mr Johnson, speaking at a Number 10 press conference, admitted the pandemic was “far from over” with cases rising “fairly rapidly”.
But, he said: “We have to balance the risks. The risks of the disease which the vaccines have reduced but very far from eliminated and the risks of continuing with legally-enforced restrictions that 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?”
WATCH LIVE: An update on coronavirus (5 July 2021) https://t.co/eolSuwTHZ9
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 5, 2021
The PM’s spokesman said there were “ongoing discussions” with the devolved administrations about moving forward as one UK with regards to the lifting of Covid restrictions.
But the Scottish Government has so far ruled out moving any quicker, given the latest ONS infection survey figures which show Scotland has the highest Covid rate in the UK.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As has been our approach from the outset, we will continue to use evidence and judgement to ensure all our decisions are necessary and proportionate. All changes to legal restrictions will be scrutinised by parliament.”
Mr Johnson’s decision to press ahead with the lifting of restrictions has caused some alarm in the scientific community.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) which advises the Government, called for the continuation of “support and proportionate mitigations to keep us safe” from coronavirus.
Asked if he was more concerned about the Government’s messaging around the pandemic or the requirement to wear face masks potentially being dropped, he said: “I think both.
“I think we need very clear messaging and I think in certain spaces – crowded, badly ventilated spaces – masks are crucial mitigation.
“Not lockdown, but support and proportionate mitigations to keep us safe. Along with the vaccine, that’s the way out.”
Professor Susan Michie, an expert in health psychology and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies which advises ministers, added: “Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new ‘variant factories’ at a very fast rate.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid this evening hit back at suggestions from the SNP that the UK Government was “letting Covid rip”, he said: “The only part of the UK where cases could be described as ripping would be in Scotland, where the case rate is higher than any other part of the UK, in fact I think they have seven of the 10 highest hotspots in terms of number of cases throughout Europe.”