Despite a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases caused by the Delta variant, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday July 5th that he would lift the last restrictions linked to the virus on July 19. Johnson said he relies on “individual responsibility”, and that he intends to lift the bulk of the remaining measures including the obligation to wear a mask in enclosed public places in England.
“We will put an end to the legal obligation to wear a mask,” said the Prime Minister at a press conference, and he also announced the end of the obligation to keep social distancing. The government must confirm this choice on July 12th, a controversial decision at a time when the country is facing a surge in contagion cases attributed to the Delta variant. Johnson called for “caution” and said he would wear a mask in crowded places.
We are not going to put the Covid-19 virus behind us forever, we’re going to have to learn to live with itRobert Jenrick, Housing Secretary
While acknowledging that the pandemic was “far from over” and that infections were continuing to rise and could reach “50,000 a day by July 19”, the Prime Minister explained that he wanted to “allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to deal with the virus”.
In a return to some form of normality, Johnson announced that teleworking would no longer be recommended, that theaters and stadiums could open to capacity and that nightclubs would be allowed to welcome the public again. There will also be no limits on the number of people attending a wedding or funeral or guests at home.
Reassuring British people who want to go on vacation, Boris Johnson confirmed that he would end the mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers returning from countries classified as “orange”, including major European tourist destinations such as France, Italy and Spain. An announcement from the Minister of Transportation is expected this week.
Initially scheduled for June 21, the lifting of the latest restrictions had been postponed by one month, to July 19, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant. The variant now accounts for almost all new cases in the UK, where daily infections have approached 30,000 in recent days.
The government is relying on the success of its vaccination campaign to justify lifting the latest restrictions and hopes that by July 19, two-thirds of adults will be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Its goal is to offer a second dose of the vaccine to everyone over 18 by mid-September, and to do so the interval between the two doses has been reduced from 12 to eight weeks. The vaccination campaign, which began in early December, has already reached nearly 64% of the adult population with two doses.
The government’s strategy, however, has been criticized by some of the scientists advising the executive, as well as by the opposition. The Labour party is particularly critical of the abandonment of the use of masks.
It’s unwise to remove all protection at the same time while the rate of infection continues to riseKeir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party
Public opinion seems to be on its side: 71% of the public wants masks to remain mandatory on public transport and in stores, according to a YouGov poll of 2,649 British adults.
The Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as well as the Unite union, which represents tens of thousands of employees in public transport, is in favor of maintaining the use of masks in mass transport and has announced further discussions with the Department for Transport to decide on the next steps. According to the Brussels Times, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still enforcing the use of masks in public spaces.