Boris Johnson will lift almost all legal Covid restrictions from July 19 under a ‘freedom plan’ to be published next week.
The Prime Minister all but confirmed yesterday that he will give the green light for reopening mid-month as he underlined the success of the vaccine programme.
‘It looks ever clearer … the speed of that vaccine rollout has broken that link between infection and mortality and that’s an amazing thing,’ he said. ‘That gives us the scope, we think on the 19th to go ahead, cautiously, irreversibly.’
Mr Johnson added that Britain was now in the ‘final furlong’ of the lockdown. But, with cases still surging, he warned that some ‘extra precautions’ may need to remain in place after so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.
Last night it was claimed that health officials have drawn up contingency plans involving possible Covid restrictions for the next five winters.
These could include making face masks and social distancing mandatory, asking people to work from home and putting limits on indoor gatherings. The blue print would allow ministers to mix-and-match restrictions, depending on how bad the outbreak is.
Conservative MP Steve Baker welcomed the plan to lift restrictions from July 19 – but warned they must not be brought back in the coming months.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson all but confirmed yesterday that he will give the green light for reopening mid-month as he underlined the success of the vaccine programme
Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘Ministers are giving me every indication that I am going to be happy on July 19.
‘That is great – there is nothing I would like more than to see restrictions lifted this summer so that we can all make a fresh start this autumn.
‘The trouble is that I fear I won’t be happy in the autumn and winter when the health lobby pushes for further lockdowns in order to manage capacity in the NHS.
‘We cannot have our freedoms sacrificed – and I include the freedom to make a living – to manage numbers on waiting lists and in hospitals.’
A final decision on lifting restrictions will not be made until July 12, but government sources said the plan will be published next week to give business and individuals more time to adjust.
Businesses such as nightclubs, which have been forced to close throughout the pandemic, will finally be allowed to reopen under the final tranche of easing on the delayed ‘Freedom Day’ of July 19
Formal guidance to work from home where possible is set to be scrapped. But some scientists are urging the PM not to encourage a rapid return to the workplace for the millions who have spent much of the pandemic working from home
Ministers are increasingly confident that he will end the legal requirement to wear face masks in shops, although they may still be required when visiting hospitals and care homes
The situation on public transport is still undecided, with the PM wanting to make masks voluntary, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan pressing for them to remain compulsory
The PM has prioritised scrapping the one-metre rule, along with the rule of six on indoor socialising, which are seen as the biggest brakes on the economy.
Rules limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 30 will also go, and businesses such as nightclubs, which have been forced to close throughout the pandemic, will finally be allowed to reopen.
Ministers have also shelved plans to legally require people to use vaccine passports to control entry to mass events, although organisers will be permitted to set their own requirements for ticket-holders.
No10 declined to comment on what ‘extra precautions’ the PM is planning to retain, although they are certain to include the onerous rules about self-isolation for those who come into contact with an infected person.
But ministers are increasingly confident that he will end the legal requirement to wear face masks in shops, although they may still be required when visiting hospitals and care homes.
The situation on public transport is still undecided, with the PM wanting to make masks voluntary, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan pressing for them to remain compulsory, and chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance warning they may have to return in the autumn.
There are growing fears among Tory MPs that the taste of freedom could prove short-lived if cases continue to surge. A further 27,989 cases were recorded yesterday – the highest daily figure since January 22
Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt said yesterday: ‘If it’s a choice between having the economy locked down and wearing a face mask to go into a shop, people will wear a mask. But I hope we won’t have to do that.’
There is also still debate within government about whether to encourage office workers to go back to their desks.
The formal guidance to work from home is set to be dropped. But some scientists are urging the PM not to encourage a rapid return to the workplace for the millions who have spent much of the pandemic working from home.
And there are growing fears among Tory MPs that the taste of freedom could prove short-lived if cases continue to surge. A further 27,989 cases were recorded yesterday – the highest daily figure since January 22.
Another 22 deaths were reported. Officials have conceded that daily cases could top 50,000 by July 19.
But ministers are encouraged by the fact that hospitalisations and deaths are rising much slower than in previous waves of the virus.
While new infections are now rising at more than 70 per cent a week, deaths and hospitalisations are increasing at only about 11 per cent a piece.
In the last week, daily deaths have averaged 16 – a fraction of the grim toll recorded in January.
During a visit to the Nissan car plant in Sunderland yesterday, the PM said: ‘We are seeing a big increase in cases, but that is not translating into a big increase in serious illness and death.’
He added: ‘We’ll be wanting to go back to a world that is as close to the status quo as possible. Try to get back to life as close to it was before Covid. But there may be some things we have to do, extra precautions that we have to take.’
Whitehall sources played down reports that on-off restrictions could continue for the next five years.
The Department of Health is reported to have drawn up plans for restrictions for the next five winters, including the reintroduction of masks, social distancing and working from home to avoid further lockdowns.
A Whitehall source acknowledged this winter could be ‘challenging’, but denied restrictions were set to go on for five years.
Miss Mordaunt acknowledged some restrictions could return this winter. She told Times Radio she believed that people ‘will be up for’ social distancing again if it meant keeping the economy open.
What’s in, what’s out – and what’s in the balance
The Prime Minister has given his clearest indication yet that most Covid restrictions will be lifted from July 19.
Political Editor Jason Groves examines which measures will go – and which could stay in place.
One-metre rule – The social-distancing measure that makes most hospitality firms unprofitable by reducing the number of tables they can fill and restricts the number of office workers who can return to their desks.
The Rule of Six – Limit on the number of people who can meet indoors.
Outdoor cap of 30 – Currently only a maximum of 30 can meet outdoors.
Face masks – Laws requiring people to wear face masks in shops, cinemas and restaurants.
Ban on clubbing – Nightclubs and discos were forced to shut in March 2020.
Working from home – Formal guidance to work from home where possible.
Self-isolation – The legal requirement to self-isolate for ten days if you come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid.
Masks in medical settings – Face masks in hospitals and care homes.
IN THE BALANCE
Face Coverings on public transport – Boris Johnson wants to scrap the law and make them voluntary. But some scientists and the London Mayor Sadiq Khan are pushing him to maintain the law.
Vaccine passports – So-called Covid certification will not be legally required for mass events like music festivals and sports matches. But event organisers will be allowed to set their own entry rules.