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England set to lift mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing rules

Boris Johnson said today that Step 4 will proceed, but it is yet to be confirmed whether it will still happen on 19 July.

coronavirus-mon-jul-5-2021 Source: PA

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has confirmed that all legal coronavirus restrictions will end at ‘Step 4′ of the Government’s plan to ease England’s lockdown, which is expected to be on 19 July.

Johnson said that the government will no longer be making it a legal requirement that people have to wear masks in certain settings, but is asking that the public make a personal judgement on when it is appropriate for masks to be used.

“We will change the basic tools we have used to control human behaviour. We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus,” he said.

This in particular has been criticised heavily; with the Royal College of Nursing saying that the “government will regret the day it sent the wrong signal for political expediency”, and opposition leader Kier Starmer calling the announcement “reckless”. 

It will be decided next Monday 12 July whether Step 4 will proceed on 19 July, depending on the latest data. Under Step 4 of England’s plan:

  • There will be no limits on social contact, meaning the end of the orders such as the “rule of six” and restrictions on guests at weddings and mourners at funerals.
  • Legal requirement to wear face coverings will be lifted, although guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in “enclosed and crowded places”.
  • All remaining businesses will be able to reopen, including nightclubs, while capacity caps will be lifted and bars and restaurants will no longer be restricted to table service.
  • The British Government will no longer instruct people to work from home.
  • The “one metre plus” rule on social distancing will be lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border, where guidance will remain to keep passengers from red and amber list countries from mingling with other travellers.
  • The limit on named care home visitors will be lifted but infection control measures will remain in place.
  • There will be no compulsory use of Covid status certification – so-called domestic ‘vaccine passports’ – although firms will be able to voluntarily use the system.
  • The gap between vaccine doses for under-40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, meaning that all adults will have the opportunity to be double-jabbed by mid-September.

In response to a question on masks, England’s CMO Chris Whitty said that there were three scenarios in which he would still wear a face mask: when in a crowded situation indoors, when required to by an authority, and if someone else was uncomfortable with him not wearing a mask.

Johnson said this evening that the pandemic is “far from over” and will not be over by 19 July, with a potential 50,000 cases detected a day by that date. 

He told the Downing Street press conference: “We’re seeing rising hospital admissions and we must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from Covid.

In these circumstances we must take a careful and a balanced decision. And there’s only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to step four in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further, and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.

The UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said at the press conference that the vaccines had “weakened” the link between getting Covid and hospitalisations and deaths, but that it had only been weakened, and not completely broken.

Johnson said the expectation remains that by 19 July every adult in the UK will have had the offer of a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and two-thirds will have had a second dose.

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The Prime Minister said that it was a case of ‘now or next year’ in relation to a full reopening:

“And 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.”

With reporting from the Press Association.

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