U.K.’s Johnson to Urge Caution as Covid Restrictions Are Lifted

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson will warn people to remain vigilant as he prepares to lift virtually all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England.

In a news conference on Monday, Johnson is widely expected to confirm that mandatory curbs will end as planned on July 19, including the legal requirement to wear masks in indoor settings.

But he’ll also warn that the unlocking will drive a new surge in cases and that people must “all take responsibility” in the coming weeks to help keep infections at a manageable level, his office said in an emailed statement.

U.K.’s Johnson to Urge Caution as Covid Restrictions Are Lifted

Johnson’s downbeat tone contrasts with the recent optimism of his cabinet ministers as England approaches so-called “Freedom Day” on July 19. Infections have risen sharply in the last week, driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. Hospitalizations are also on the rise.

The main opposition Labour party accused the government of sowing confusion over Covid rules, not least with its stance on masks. New guidance being issued on Monday will include an “expectation” for people to keep wearing masks in many indoor spaces, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC TV.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also told the Sunday Telegraph that people who didn’t wear masks in crowded indoor settings were “just being irresponsible, they’re not playing their role as a responsible citizen.”

Conflicting Statements

Masks should therefore remain mandatory, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said in a statement. “It would be equally irresponsible for his government to carry on with the plan to lift mask requirements while infections are heading to 100,000 a day,” he said.

Meanwhile Susan Hopkins, a senior director at Public Health England, told Times Radio on Sunday that people should keep wearing masks in many public settings and also continue to work from home, when possible, during the coming weeks.

There should only be a “cautious return to the office” once cases start to fall, she said. The government is planning to lift its “work from home” guidance July 19.

Rising cases

Johnson will point to current modeling that shows Covid cases will keep rising as restrictions are eased, with hospital admissions and deaths also increasing, albeit at a much lower level than in earlier waves, before the U.K.’s rapid vaccination program started.

He’ll urge people to keep coming forward for both shots, amid fears within government that the vaccine rollout is slowing because not enough young people are coming forward. Almost two thirds of U.K. adults have had two doses so far, heavily skewed toward older age groups.

New data from Public Health England will show that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine 92% effective on preventing hospitalization from the delta variant after two doses.

Weakened Link

That’s consistent with Zahawi’s comment Sunday that the vaccination program has weakened, but not completely severed, the link between Covid infections and serious illness.

“Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear,” Johnson will say. “Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS.”

The premier is keen to turn the spotlight away from the pandemic and onto the economy later this week, when he’ll make a speech vowing to tackle social divisions exacerbated in the U.K. by the virus and its 16 months of restrictions.

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