Covid normal: What's changing in England from July 19

Cases could surge to as high as 100,000 a day after restrictions ease

Boris Johnson has put his faith in the protections afforded by vaccines after announcing the end of Covid-19 restrictions in England.

The prime minister said laws enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing would be scrapped in just two weeks’ time despite warnings from scientists the bonfire of restrictions would lead to a surge in cases.

Here is a look at what is changing in the UK.

What is changing and when do the changes take place?

Mr Johnson announced his intention to lift remaining Covid restrictions on July 19, meaning:

  • the “rule of six” for indoor gatherings is abolished
  • mask-wearing is voluntary
  • no capacity limits in theatres, cinemas and at sporting events
  • table service at restaurants and pubs will no longer be mandatory
  • guidance to work from home will end
  • nightclubs can open
  • visitor restrictions at care homes to ease

Why are the rules changing?

England will proceed to the fourth and final stage of the lockdown road map, which means an end to most social distancing rules.

"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?", Mr Johnson told a news conference.

"We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus."

Could Covid cases rise?

The infection rate has been rising rapidly since the last lifting of restrictions on May 17, to about 30,000 per day, with most new cases identified as the Delta variant of coronavirus.

Mr Johnson warned Covid cases could hit 50,000 by the time social distancing is scrapped on July 19.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid predicted cases could be as high as 100,000 later in the summer, but he said "what matters more than anything is hospitalisation and death numbers".

Mr Johnson reiterated that coronavirus should be treated like other widespread illnesses, such as the flu.

“We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid”, he said.

Hospital admissions and deaths are currently flat, with data showing vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe illness from the virus. The majority of people admitted to hospital with Covid are unvaccinated.

Vaccine uptake in Britain is strong, with 86 per cent of adults receiving a first dose and 64 per cent receiving two doses, according to the latest government figures.

Will mask-wearing be compulsory?

Mr Johnson urged people to exercise caution on mask-wearing even if the legal requirement to wear one is scrapped.

The prime minister said people may decide to use a face covering on a packed Tube carriage but may decide to not wear one in quieter indoor places.

He said people should exercise judgment when going about their lives.

“As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from Covid when going about our lives,” he said.

Some local authorities may still require mask-wearing, which could create confusion if rules are applied inconsistently across the country.

Taking a different view to Mr Johnson, England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said he would continue to wear a mask as a “common courtesy” to others.

"I would wear a mask under three situations, and I would do so, particularly at this point when the epidemic is clearly significant and rising”, he said on Monday.

"And the first is in any situation which was indoors and crowded, or indoors with close proximity to other people and that is because masks help protect other people - this is a thing we do to protect other people, this is by far its principal aim.

"The second situation I’d do it is if I was required to by any competent authority. I would have no hesitation about doing that and I would consider that was a reasonable and sensible thing if they had good reason to do that.”

Should employees start to return to the office?

Mr Johnson said guidance stating people should work from home where possible will be scrapped.

"It will no longer be necessary for government to instruct people to work from home so employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace”, he said.

But the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development - which represents HR professionals - said employees should still be given the option to work from home.

"People generally want a mix of workplace and home working, and the possibility of more choice in their working routines, meaning hybrid working can provide an effective balance for many workers”, it said.

Will the UK use domestic Covid passports?

From July 19, there will be no requirement to scan a QR code on entry to certain venues.

Mr Johnson had previously highlighted the benefits of Covid passports - which shows vaccination status and test results - for attending large events when announcing a review about their use in the UK.

However, he said they too would not be required in a fortnight's time.

The Tony Blair Institute warned the government it could be unwise to scrap the Covid pass plan after a new report suggested the introduction of passports could cut Covid infections by a third and the number of deaths in England by around 10,000.

The report proposed the mandatory use of Covid passes at nightclubs and for large events would be temporary and only required when case numbers were high.

The government's review of vaccine passports left open the possibility of them being introduced at a later date.

It states they “could provide a means of keeping events going and businesses open if the country is facing a difficult situation in autumn or winter”.

What is happening with care homes?

The limit on how many named visitors a care home resident can receive will be removed but infection control measures such as enhanced cleaning and PPE will remain in place.

What do the changes mean for travel?

England's international travel rules are treated separately from the road map out of lockdown.

The traffic light system will remain in place - meaning countries are rated red, amber or green based on the level of Covid risk.

Mr Johnson said the red list of nations from where isolation in quarantine hotels is necessary will remain in force, but he aims to remove the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate at home when returning from amber countries.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will set out more details for vaccinated travellers later this week.

What do scientists say?

Some scientists criticised plans to remove the mask mandate.

Prof Stephen Reicher from the University of St Andrews in Scotland said he was worried that ministers appeared to be “unconcerned at levels of infection”.

"It is frightening to have a 'Health' Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is 'this isn't an 'I' thing, it's a 'we' thing'," he wrote on Twitter.

"Your behaviour affects my health.”

Prof Susan Michie from University College London was also critical.

"Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new 'variant factories' at a very fast rate," she said.

Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, was more optimistic about the easing of restrictions.

"I think we will reach a point where it’s increasingly difficult, if this link between the cases and the hospitalisations and deaths remains extremely weak or broken, where we can’t get back to normal”, he said.

"Clearly with infections if you want to completely stop them the only way to do that is to stay at home – and we can’t go on like that.”

The British Medical Association at the weekend urged the government to maintain some restrictions owing to an "alarming increase" in the number of Covid cases driven by the Delta variant.

What do Boris Johnson’s political rivals say?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister was “reckless” to remove most restrictions, arguing mask-wearing must stay.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said he was considering keeping compulsory mask-wearing on public transport.

“The wearing of face coverings on public transport helps to reduce the spread of Covid, and crucially gives Londoners confidence to travel on the network, which is vital to our economic recovery,” he said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings said Mr Johnson was in “let it rip mode” - a reference to when Mr Johnson reportedly suggested he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than impose a lockdown.

Could the UK enter a Covid-19 lockdown again?

Mr Johnson did not rule out considering further Covid restrictions later in the year in the event a new variant escapes the protection of vaccines.

He said the government would “retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter”.

“But we will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring”, he said.

Updated: July 6th 2021, 1:06 PM
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