Words: Connor Steel
Photograph: Sky News
BORIS JOHNSON finally outlined his outlook for a ‘post-Covid’ environment in a press conference this evening – Monday, July 5 – in which he confirmed that many restrictions will ease on July 19.
Dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ the date will see many rules and regulations eased as part of roadmap stage four, with voters already looking forward to another English landmark in this long pandemic journey.
Conjoined with a Parliamentary statement from new Health Secretary Sajid Javid, the press briefing saw the PM optimistically announce the end of most coronavirus regulations under the final stage of his Government’s roadmap.
But he stressed that another statement would be delivered in just seven days once all data had been reviewed by the Cabinet.
Providing the fourth and final stage can be met after a month’s delay, July 19 will see England adapt to rules in which decision-taking can be handed back to the public after 16 months of guidelines. In the briefing, Mr Johnson outlined his plan that removes the majority of restrictions which started in March last year under the Coronavirus Act 2020, with the main points below:
• No more limits on social contact to allow people to gather in groups of any size.
• Social distancing rules to be removed except for specific places such as airports.
• All remaining businesses, including nightclubs, able to re-open.
• No capacity caps on large scale events, such as sports matches, theatre shows or concerts.
• No more legal requirement on wearing face masks in shops or on public transport.
• The government will no longer require people to work from home.
• No more limits on the number of people who are able to visit care home residents.
It means nightclubs will be allowed to reopen this month, while the hospitality and entertainment sectors can extend their service boundaries across England. Many businesses will be able to enforce their own judgment on limiting numbers in their stores, and event organisers can exercise choice on the subject of Covid-19 passports showing negative tests or proof of vaccination.
Maximum capacity rules and caps has also been relaxed, although again organisers can use their own ‘unlocking’ methods if they feel this is the right way.
Mr Johnson stated that his Government’s ability to relax these rules was down to the resilience and hard work of the voters, combined with the much-acclaimed success of the vaccine rollout over the last six months. As it stands, over 82 percentof adults have received a first jab and two thirds have been double-jabbed, with plans for a booster programme in Autumn to protect against any variants.
But alongside the optimism came caution as he pleaded for voters to wait until the final announcement was made next week and asked us to observe current rules until July 19; by this date it is imagined that cases would hit over 50,000 a day although forecast deaths and hospital admissions are fairly low in comparison to previous waves.
With this in mind, the PM stated that the track and trace system will remain in place, as will rules on self-isolation with some leniency on those who have been doubled jabbed over recent months.
Although the press conference covered main talking points, it left people asking questions. For example there was no update on travel to overseas countries with green, amber and red lists due to be reviewed next week. The subjects of any potential local lockdowns and any impact on the furlough scheme were overlooked; whilst ideas of scrapping school bubbles and the plan of vaccinating children in August would be decided in due course.
It is crucial to stress these rules will apply to England from July 19 if Stage Four goes ahead as planned; the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have their own guidelines announced in separate briefing events due next week.
However, it is expected the three countries will be cautious and share Sir Keir Stammer’s view that the Government is being reckless and removing all protections against the virus will be putting another lockdown back on the cards.
In support of his party leader, Labour’s shadow health minister, Jonathon Ashworth, said: “We need those life saving mitigations in place, we need sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask wearing on public transport and ventilation in buildings and schools.”
Another opposition MP also slammed Mr Johnson for his announcement and timing, particularly as the day marks the 73rd birthday of the NHS’ foundation in 1948 under the Labour Party.
But Gosport Member of Parliament Caroline Dinenage was able to strike a more central tone, outlining her support for her leader’s plan whilst also exercising caution that the pandemic wasn’t yet over despite the announcement. In a press release the minister said:
“It’s important now that we move towards a position where individuals can manage their risk alongside a return to normal life. This is a welcome step for so many in getting our lives back but also for our fantastic sectors – from hospitality to theatres and festivals – who have all been held back by restrictions.
This does not mean the pandemic is over and we must all exercise caution going forward, however this is a huge leap in the right direction on the road to getting our freedoms back.”
All advice and current guidelines can be found by visiting Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance and support – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk), which also includes updated data on its dashboard.