Politics

Boris Johnson unleashes Lockdown freedom but issues Covid warning for Britons

Patrick Vallance warns coronavirus deaths will still rise

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But the PM urged people not to act “demob happy” and said the crisis was far from over. But he added that, after the success of the vaccine rollout, continuing with restrictions could not be justified for much longer. The Prime Minister insisted his plan to lift behaviour rules was “balanced and cautious”. The Government will switch to “strengthened guidance” while letting individuals make their own judgment on risks.

Freedom Day on July 19 in England will sweep away compulsory face masks on public transport and in shops, plus the limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and rules on social distancing in pubs and restaurants.

Mr Johnson announced at No 10 yesterday: “We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus. 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 added: “To those who say we should delay again – the alternative is to open up in the winter when the virus will have an advantage or not at all this year.”

Last night restrictions on people travelling from the UK to Germany were eased, raising hopes of summer holidays happening.

Germany is reducing its curbs tomorrow as the UK is no longer a highest level “virus variant area”, meaning double-vaccinated travellers, or those with antibodies, will not have to quarantine on arrival there.

Those with a negative test will have their quarantine reduced. Chancellor Angela Merkel had indicated during a visit to Britain last Friday that travel restrictions would soon be relaxed.

Mr Johnson will make a final decision next Monday on whether to press ahead and end all restrictions the following Monday after studying the latest data on hospitalisations and deaths.

Last night, he unveiled a five-point plan to ensure a safe return to full freedom including:

  • Reinforcing the “vaccine wall” by offering second jabs to all adults by mid-September and an autumn booster for the most vulnerable;
  • Removing all legal restrictions on gatherings and businesses including nightclubs, scrapping limits on visitors to care homes plus allowing concerts, theatres and sports venues to welcome back capacity audiences;

The one metre-plus social distancing rule will also go, along with the legal requirement to wear a face covering on public transport – although official guidance may still recommend the practice in some circumstances. Employees will no longer be instructed by the Government to work from home.

  • Continuing the NHS Test and Trace effort to combat the spread of coronavirus, although people who have had two injections will soon be spared from compulsory isolation after contact with someone infected by the virus.
  • Maintaining tough border controls – including the “red list of countries” – while working to remove the need for double-inoculated travellers to isolate on return from an Covid “amber” alert destination, as well as:
  • Monitoring data and retaining some contingency measures to help combat the virus during higher risk periods such as winter.

In another move to spur the return to normality, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will this week announce plans to protect pupils while removing bubbles and ending contact isolation.

Mr Johnson said: “Given the massive success of the vaccine rollout, given the fact that this is a propitious moment, a good moment to do it given the coming summer holidays, the natural firebreak we have there, and given the difficulty of then imagining us opening up in the context of the colder autumn/winter months, I think this is a balanced and cautious approach.

“I don’t want people to feel this is, as it were, the moment to get demob happy, [that] this is the end of Covid – it is very far from the end of dealing with this virus.”

Passengers on trains, buses and the Tube will still be advised to wear masks in crowded situations. The PM said: “What we’re trying to do is move from universal Government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility.

“Clearly there’s a big difference between travelling on a crowded Tube train and sitting late at night in a virtually empty carriage on the main railway line. What we want to do is for people to exercise their personal responsibility but to remember the value of face coverings. I will obviously wear a mask in crowded places.”

Raising a note of caution, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned: “This winter the NHS is likely to have both Covid and some resurgence of other respiratory viruses that were suppressed by the degree of lockdown.”

Tory MPs in the Commons shouted “Hallelujah” when Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the plan to scrap Covid restrictions.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer attacked the Prime Minister’s decision, saying: “Lifting all protections in one go when the infection rate is going up is reckless.”

Theatres called the return of capacity audiences a “lifeline”, with “thrilled” Andrew Lloyd Webber announcing a charity night of his West End show Cinderella.

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