Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to end nearly all of England’s remaining coronavirus restrictions in one move despite cases rapidly rising has triggered a series of warnings.
Labour criticised the Prime Minister’s plan to gamble on public responsibility and the immunity from vaccines as “reckless” and called for him to maintain protections such as mask wearing.
‘Drop legal restrictions’
In a Downing Street press conference, Johnson revealed a number of changes that will be made to the Covid-19 restrictions across England.
Johnson said that the country will “move away from legal restrictions” and from Step 4 of the Covid lockdown exit plan, all legal limits on indoor and outdoor meetings would be lifted.
All businesses will be allowed to open from Step 4, including the likes of nightclubs, and the restricted number of attendees at events like concerts and sporting events will be lifted.
The one metre plus rule on social distancing and legal requirements to wear a face covering will also be scrapped.
A final decision on whether to proceed with the proposals on 19 July will be made on Monday 12 July, however Johnson has strongly indicated that it will go ahead as planned.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “To throw off all protections at the same time when the infection rate is still going up is reckless.
“We need a balanced approach, we need to keep key protections in place, including masks, including ventilation and crucially… proper payments to those who need to self isolate.”
British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was “incredibly concerning” for Mr Johnson to “decide to go full steam” despite warnings over rising hospitalisations and deaths.
He urged ministers to ensure the wearing of masks is compulsory “until the rampant spread of infection has been brought under control and more of the population are fully vaccinated”.
“There is a clear disconnect with the actions the Government are planning to take and the data and views of the scientific community and medical profession,” Dr Nagpaul said.
‘Risk of causing huge damage’
Professor Stephen Reicher, who advises the Government as part of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), warned there is a “very real risk prospect” that by the end of July there could be nearly a million cases per week.
“I really do fear that if we were to get up to those high numbers of infections there is a risk of causing huge damage primarily to young people because they’re the ones that aren’t vaccinated,” he told Channel 4 News.
“I think that’s a very big risk indeed, it’s not a risk I would take and I earnestly, I genuinely hope that I am wrong and it doesn’t happen but I wouldn’t be taking the risk.”
There could be ‘50,000 cases per day’
In the press conference, Johnson said that “the pandemic is far from over and it will certainly not be over by 19th [July]” and added that “there could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th”.
The latest data has shown that there had been a further 27,334 cases of Covid-19 as of 9am on Monday, while a further nine people had died within 28 days of testing positive.
However, he went ahead with announcements that signalled the end of all Covid-19 restrictions from 19 July.
Johnson said: “In these circumstances we must take a careful and balanced decision.
“And there is only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to Step 4 - in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further - and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine roll out.”
Johnson announced that, in regards to vaccinations, the dose interval between the two jabs for under 40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, and said “everyone over 18 should be double jabbed by mid-September, in addition to our Autumn programme of booster vaccines for the most vulnerable”.
He added that there would also no longer be a government mandate that instructs people to work from home.
While his announcement focused on the restrictions that will be lifted, Johnson said that, from Step 4, the test, trace and isolate system will still be in place, with a legal requirement to self isolate if you test positive or are told to do so by the NHS.