Johnson Tells Britons to Use Judgment When Covid Curbs End

Boris Johnson is urging Britons to “exercise judgment” to protect themselves from Covid-19 as the government prepares for the final unlocking of the economy in two weeks.

The prime minister will use a press conference on Monday to say that the country must learn to live with the disease, as it does with influenza. He is expected to confirm that people will no longer be forced to wear facial coverings as he sets out the final stage of his roadmap out of lockdown for England ahead of a formal announcement next week.

The move marks a decisive shift toward handing responsibility to citizens to manage the risks after 16 months of unprecedented government intervention to bring the virus under control. However, it risks sparking a backlash from scientists who say removing virtually all restrictions when millions of people are not fully immunized could prove devastating.

Pandemic Relaxations Due July 19 Under Planned Roadmap
  • Nightclubs to reopen for first time since March 2020
  • Restrictions dropped on theater, concert and sports match audiences
  • All legal restrictions on social distancing scrapped
  • No legal limits on life events such as weddings, funerals, christenings

The U.K. is in a race to vaccinate the population against the fast-spreading delta variant quickly enough to be able to lift social-distancing curbs and reopen more businesses on July 19. Almost 64% of U.K. adults have now had two doses of a vaccine.

Ministers are optimistic, noting that a recent surge in infections to their highest level since January has not led to commensurately more hospitalizations and deaths. On Sunday, the U.K. reported 24,248 more Covid-19 cases and 15 more deaths.

“I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks,” Johnson said in a statement. “As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from Covid and exercise judgment when going about our lives.”

The government will confirm on July 12 whether its tests for easing restrictions have been met following a review of the latest data. Announcements Monday are expected to include:

  • The results of reviews into the use of Covid-status certification
  • Decisions on scrapping the one meter-plus rule in hospitality venues and working from home guidance
  • The next steps for care home visits
  • Newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid will make a statement to Parliament.

On Sunday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed that the wearing of face masks in public spaces will be a matter of personal choice. His comments came days after the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, warned that lifting all restrictions this month could inflict serious damage on the National Health Service and the economy.

“Mask wearing is obviously something extremely valuable to do under certain circumstances,” Adam Finn, a professor who sits on the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told Sky News on Sunday. He said he would continue to wear masks “if I am in an enclosed space with lots of other people for a prolonged period of time, indefinitely in fact, because I’ve learnt that by doing that, I can reduce the risk of transmission.”

Some opposition politicians are also wary about easing too much too soon. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham last week said he didn’t think the government should scrap both social distancing and the wearing of face masks at the same time, telling the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ program: “you’ve got to keep one or the other.”

It’s “better” to keep the masks requirement, Burnham said. They are “a reminder to everybody that we’re still not living in normal times and we all need to look out for each other.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also indicated a preference to retain the use of face coverings on public transport.

“It is important that we continue to follow the science around the extent to which they limit transmission on transport and in busy indoor spaces,” his office said. “Evidence shows that the wearing of face masks gives many Londoners the confidence that they can travel safely on public transport.”

The government was due to lift remaining social distancing rules on June 21 but was forced to delay the move by four weeks when the delta strain took hold.

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