People in England will no longer be required by law to wear face masks in any setting from July 19th as all social distancing rules are abolished under a plan announced by Boris Johnson on Monday. There will be no limits on social contacts or restrictions on the number of people who can attend licensed events and all venues including nightclubs will be allowed to reopen.
Under the plan, which will not be confirmed until next Monday, the one-metre-plus rule will be lifted, all restrictions on seated eating and drinking will be removed and bars will be able to resume pre-pandemic serving arrangements.
Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will still be required by law to self-isolate but people who are fully vaccinated will no longer be require to do so if they are identified as contacts of someone who has become infected. There will no longer be an instruction to work from home.
Mr Johnson, who last month postponed the lifting of further restrictions by two weeks, said it was better to reopen society now rather than wait until winter.
“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 told a press conference in Downing Street.
The announcement that all legal restrictions will be removed came as coronavirus cases continued to rise, with a seven-day average of 25,447 new cases a day. The number of people in hospital with coronavirus is also rising but much more slowly and the seven-day average of deaths is just 18 per day – compared to more than 1,000 a day earlier this year when case numbers were last so high.
The prime minister said lifting restrictions would trigger a further rise in coronavirus cases and that although the link between case numbers and hospitalisations and deaths had weakened, more people would die.
“We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid,” he said.
Mr Johnson said that by July 19th, every adult will have been offered one vaccine dose and two out of three will have received their second dose.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the government’s plan meant accepting an increase in hospitalisations and deaths without putting mitigating measures in place to slow the spread of the Delta variant. And he pointed out that, despite the success of its vaccination programme, Israel had reintroduced a mask mandate because of a rise in infections due to the Delta variant.
“Masks don’t restrict freedoms in a pandemic but when so much virus is circulating, they ensure that everyone who goes to the shops or takes public transport can do so safely. If nobody is masked, Covid risk increases and we’re all less safe; especially those who have been shielding and are anxious. Why should those who are worried and shielding be shut out of public transport and shops,” he said.