Pandemic not over, British PM says as England set for rule easing

Restrictions to be lifted in one week despite surge in infections to levels unseen in months

A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas' Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital on Sunday, a Downing Street spokesman said, a week after being admitted for treatment for coronavirus and spending three days in intensive care. "The PM has been discharged from hospital to continue his recovery, at Chequers," the spokesman said, referring to the prime minister's country estate outside London. (Photo by Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / 10 DOWNING STREET / PIPPA FOWLES" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge caution on Monday as he is expected to confirm plans to remove nearly all Covid-19 restrictions in England from July 19, despite a surge of cases to levels unseen for months.

Last week Mr Johnson set out proposals to eliminate rules on mask-wearing and social contact, and the instruction to work from home, on what he has called a "one-way road to freedom".

He will announce his final decision on Monday.

"The global pandemic is not over yet," Mr Johnson said late on Sunday.

"Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress."

Britain has implemented one of the world's fastest vaccination programmes, with more than 87 per cent of adults having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 66 per cent having received two.

But there has been a striking surge of infections in recent weeks, to rates unseen since the winter.

The government says that even though cases have surged, deaths and hospital admissions remain far lower than before, as proof that the vaccines are saving lives and it is safer to open up.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Vaccines Minister, took a more circumspect tone on Sunday.

Although face coverings are set to no longer be mandatory, guidelines would state that "people are expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces", Mr Zahawi said.

Mr Johnson's office says the approval to lift restrictions depends on four factors: enough people being vaccinated; vaccines reducing hospital admissions and deaths; hospitals being free from pressure; and variants not posing too great a risk.

Some scientists and officials have expressed concern that the authorities are pressing ahead too quickly.

"I know the government are very keen to get people back to offices but I think over the next four to six weeks, that needs to be very cautiously implemented by businesses to keep transmission down," Public Health England's Prof Susan Hopkins told Times Radio.

Updated: July 12th 2021, 12:03 AM