England Is Set to Drop Most Covid Restrictions Despite Soaring Cases

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Virtually all remaining coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in England as planned from July 19 despite a recent surge in infections and hospitalizations, Boris Johnson’s government confirmed.

Legal curbs on social distancing and mask-wearing will be replaced by guidelines that simply “expect” people to be cautious and show restraint while the daily number of new infections remains high.

All businesses, including nightclubs, will be allowed to open with no capacity limits -- but the government will be “encouraging” them to request proof of vaccination or a negative test from customers when they’re crowded, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons on Monday.

Similarly, the government will also recommend people continue to wear face coverings in crowded areas, such as public transport. There should also be a “gradual” return to the workplace this summer, despite the government no longer instructing people to work from home, Javid said.

“To those who say why take this step now, I say if not now, when?” Javid told members of Parliament, adding there would “never be a perfect time” to take the step. “If we wait longer, we risk pushing the virus toward the winter when it will have an advantage or worse still, we would not be opening up at all.”

The announcement will trigger fresh accusations of confused messaging on Covid just as infections are soaring across the country, driven by the delta variant of coronavirus. New Covid-19 cases are currently about 30,000 a day, and Javid warned this could soon hit 100,000.

‘Serious Illness’

“If the prime minister does not continue to make mask wearing mandatory, we will see a sustained and even steeper rise in infection rates across the summer and beyond which will significantly impact on our NHS and result in more serious illness and hospitalization,” said Chaand Nagpaul, council chair at the British Medical Association. “Simply ‘expecting’ people to wear one is not good enough and sends out a confusing mixed message to the public.”

Lifting restrictions will have a knock-on effect on the number of hospital admissions and deaths, the government has said, albeit at lower levels than before the U.K.’s rapid vaccination program started.

Just over 87% of U.K. adults have had at least one vaccine dose, but only two-thirds have had the two doses needed for maximum protection against serious illness. Ministers fear that the vaccine rollout is slowing because not enough young people are opting for shots.

Javid said the government’s four tests on lifting restrictions had been met -- including that infection rates did not risk a surge in hospitalizations that would put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service.

“We firmly believe this is the right time to get our nation closer to normal life,” Javid said. This is “not the end of the road,” he said, but “the start of a new phase of continued caution.”

People will still be legally required to self-isolate when they test positive for Covid-19 or when contacted by the test-and-trace program, and rules on foreign travel -- including hotel quarantine when arriving from countries designated high risk -- will stay in place.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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