Prime Minister sets out plans for lockdown lifting in England

Face masks can be ditched and weddings will be free from guest restrictions if coronavirus rules are lifted as planned in England on July 19, the Prime Minister has announced.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves following the NHS service of commemoration and thanksgiving to mark the 73rd birthday of the NHS at St Paul's Cathedral, London. (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves following the NHS service of commemoration and thanksgiving to mark the 73rd birthday of the NHS at St Paul's Cathedral, London. (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

While Boris Johnson said the pandemic is "far from over" he told a Downing Street press conference that "we will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions" within a fortnight.

A final decision on whether the changes can go ahead will be taken next week, but so-called ‘Freedom day’ should see the end of social distancing restrictions in pubs and customers will no longer be required to check into venues with QR codes and mobile phone apps.

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Nightclubs and other businesses that have as yet had to stay shuttered will be allowed to open and theatres and cinemas will see their audience caps abolished. The public will also no longer be instructed to work from home.

Rules on mandatory face masks will be ripped up, including on public transport and in shops, however polling suggests there is still strong public support for coverings staying on and guidance will suggest that people may still choose to keep them in “enclosed and crowded places”.

Those in care homes will be able to have more named visitors but there will still be infection control measures in place designed to protect vulnerable residents.

While it will still be a legal obligation to isolate if you test positive for the virus, for the most part restrictions will go and people will be left to judge the risk of the virus for themselves, rather than having rules set out in law.

The Prime Minister also hinted they were looking to change the isolation rules for double jabbed people who are a close contact of a confirmed case, and more details will be set out at a later date.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday afternoon, Mr Johnson said the country must “balance the risk” of the disease from the virus and the harm from continuing with legal restrictions which “inevitably take their toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, on people’s health and mental health”.

He added: "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?’

“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.”

Whilst the Prime Minister was speaking, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was also delivering the news to MPs in the House of Commons, and told them "we cannot put our lives on hold forever."

Mr Javid said: "My responsibility includes helping us to turn to face the other challenges that we know that we must also address."

Summing up the Government's approach, he said: "Our national response to Covid will change from one of rules and regulations to one of guidance and good sense."

However, Yorkshire leaders have urged caution over the decision to drop the mandatory requirements for facemasks, which “could cause real anxiety”.

South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis said: “I’m concerned that with case numbers rising exponentially, this is not the right time to drop the requirement to wear masks in enclosed spaces and on public transport.

“This could cause real anxiety for those who are particularly vulnerable but have no option other than to use public transport or work in enclosed spaces. The pandemic has made existing inequalities worse, and some occupations have been more exposed to the virus. This could yet again put these people more at risk.”

His sentiments were echoed by West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin who said there is a need “ to protect people from the debilitating effects of long-Covid whilst supporting businesses to better implement ventilation of their premises where required.”

Polling from YouGov released on Monday afternoon suggested that 71% of people thought that masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport, and 66% thought the same in shops and enclosed public spaces.

A scientist who advises the Government called for a “continuation of support and proportionate mitigations to keep us safe” from the virus.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) which advises the Government told the BBC’s Today Programme: “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.”

On Monday, a further 27,334 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the UK, as well as an additional 9 deaths within 28 days of testing positive.