Boris Johnson to set out England’s final Covid lockdown easing

Boris Johnson is preparing to set out details of the final step of England’s roadmap out of lockdown.

The PM is expected to announce the next steps on social distancing, face coverings and working from home, as well as on care home visits, during a No 10 news conference later.

Step four of the roadmap was delayed last month to no earlier than 19 July.

Mr Johnson said as we “learn to live with this virus, we must… exercise judgement when going about our lives”.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged the government to confirm “what level of mortality and cases of long Covid” it considers acceptable.

“Letting cases rise with no action means further pressure on the NHS, more sickness, disruption to education – and risks a new variant emerging with a selection advantage,” he warned.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules, and the Scottish government has suggested it may retain some basic measures including masks at its next review in August.

Praising the successful vaccine rollout, Mr Johnson said Monday’s update would “set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach step four”.

“But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks,” he added.

Downing Street said step four would go ahead on 19 July only if the government’s “four tests” for easing curbs had been met.

The verdict on those tests – on the jab rollout, vaccine effectiveness, hospital admissions, and new virus variants – would only be confirmed on 12 July following a review of the latest data, No 10 said.

The findings of reviews on the use of Covid certification – or vaccine passports – and on social-distancing measures are also due to be announced by Mr Johnson on Monday.

‘Personal responsibility’

Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director for NHS England, said infections were currently rising but hospital rates were not increasing at the same rate as previous peaks and “things are looking very good”.

He told BBC Breakfast the NHS was “prepared” to deal with “any pressures” that emerge.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Sunday that England would move to a period without legal restrictions and with an emphasis on “personal responsibility”, including on face masks.

But Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary of the Trade Unions Congress, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “vital” people returning to work places have confidence that locations are as Covid-secure as possible.

“I just don’t think it is acceptable for the government to simply outsource its responsibilities to individuals and to individual employers,” he said. “Personal responsibility will have a role to play, but government cannot just wash its hands of this issue.”

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No mention of schools or isolation

The government’s so-called roadmap for unlocking in England was first published in February.

The anticipated dates for the easing of restrictions were all met.

All, that is, apart from the final one, which was due to happen a fortnight ago on 21 June and is now expected to happen on 19 July, a fortnight from Monday.

A final decision will be taken in a week’s time, after a review of the latest data.

Boris Johnson is expected to host a news conference at 17:00 BST and Health Secretary Sajid Javid will make a Commons statement at around the same time.

Many of the remaining restrictions in England look set to be swept away.

But he’s not expected to address self isolation, the rules in schools, or travel restrictions.

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The health secretary used a column in a Sunday newspaper to argue that lifting lockdown restrictions as planned was crucial to protect the country’s wellbeing, as the risks from Covid are reduced by vaccines.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Javid said there was a compelling health argument for unlocking, as restrictions had caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on mental health.

He said England was on track to meet the fourth and final stage of lockdown lifting – but that “cases are going to rise significantly” and “no date we choose will ever come without risk”.

Do rising cases matter?

Back in March 2020, Boris Johnson talked about turning the tide on Covid in 12 weeks. More than 12 months on we are there – or at least we hope we are.

Cases are rising rapidly, but thanks to the vaccination programme the numbers ending up in hospital and dying are way below what they once were.

During the winter peak there was one death for every 60 infections. Now it is one per 1,000.

It means the benefits of restrictions are much, much lower than they once were.

But is this the right time to ditch them altogether? Some will argue it isn’t, but others will say we have already gone too far in trying to suppress the virus.

What is certain is that before the summer is over many more people are going to be admitted to hospital and some will sadly die.

But some kind of surge as we left lockdown was always inevitable – the hope is the amount of immunity built up in the population will soon start to curb the rises.

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The review of social-distancing measures has been of particular interest to the hospitality industry, which says many venues are unable to operate profitably under restrictions on capacity and table service rules.

The findings of a review into Covid certification are also expected. The use of certificates to prove a person’s Covid vaccination or test status has been welcomed by some travel industry bosses and leading sports bodies – but the concept has raised concerns over discrimination and privacy.

Separately, the PM will give further details on the future of care home visits. At the moment, care home residents in England can choose up to five people who can visit regularly, but no more than two people should visit at one time or in one day.

Chart comparing the current rate of infections to the rate in autumn last year
Chart comparing the current rate of hospitalisations to the rate in autumn last year

It comes as a further 24,248 new coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Sunday, alongside another 15 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

More than 63% of the UK adult population has now received a second vaccine dose, with 86% having now received at least a first dose, latest figures showed.

No 10 has said the government is ensuring preparations are in place to offer third “booster” doses to everyone aged over 50 and the most vulnerable over the winter months.

Source: BBC