Boris Johnson has promised to tear up England’s coronavirus regulations at the next stage of the road map.
The Prime Minister has gambled on trusting the public’s judgment and the protection offered by vaccines as he scrapped mandatory mask-wearing and lifted social distancing requirements.
The so-called “freedom day” is expected on July 19, with a decision on whether or not to go ahead being taken a week earlier.
Officials acknowledged that Covid-19 cases and deaths would continue to increase – albeit at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme – but it was now necessary to find a new way to live with the virus.
At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson acknowledged the pandemic was “far from over” with cases rising “fairly rapidly”.
“There could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th,” he said.
“We are seeing rising hospital admissions and we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid.
“In these circumstances we must take a careful and a balanced decision – and there’s only one reason why we contemplate going ahead to Step 4 in circumstances where we would normally be locking down further and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.”
He added: “We have to balance the risks. The risks of the disease which the vaccines have reduced but very far from eliminated and the risks of continuing with legally-enforced restrictions that inevitably take their toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, on people’s health and mental health.
“We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves: when will we be able to return to normal?”
Under the Prime Minister’s plan for Step 4 of the road map:
– There will be no limits on social contact, meaning the end of the orders such as the “rule of six” and restrictions on guests at weddings and mourners at funerals.
– Legal requirement to wear face coverings will be lifted, although guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in “enclosed and crowded places”.
– All remaining businesses will be able to reopen, including nightclubs, while capacity caps will be lifted and bars and restaurants will no longer be restricted to table service.
– The Government will no longer instruct people to work from home.
– The “one metre plus” rule on social distancing will be lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border, where guidance will remain to keep passengers from red and amber list countries from mingling with other travellers.
– The limit on named care home visitors will be lifted but infection control measures will remain in place.
– There will be no compulsory use of Covid status certification – so-called domestic vaccine passports – although firms will be able to voluntarily use the system.
– The gap between vaccine doses for under-40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, meaning that all adults will have the opportunity to be double-jabbed by mid-September.
Although the legal requirement to self-isolate will remain for people who have tested positive or been identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace, Mr Johnson wants contacts who are fully vaccinated to be exempt and the Government will set out further details in due course.
Later this week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will give an update on plans to remove the need for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries to isolate, while Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will set out his plans for schools amid concern about the impact of the bubble system.