Life will “return to normality as far as possible” after July 19 in England as the country moves into the “final furlong” of coronavirus restrictions, a senior Government minister has said.
Reports have suggested that Boris Johnson will scrap social distancing and mask-wearing requirements on so-called “Freedom Day”, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there are “compelling” health reasons to ease lockdown measures.
But Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subcommittee on behavioural science, disagreed with Mr Javid’s approach.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Javid said: “We are on track for July 19 and we have to be honest with people about the fact that we cannot eliminate Covid.
“We also need to be clear that cases are going to rise significantly. I know many people will be cautious about the easing of restrictions – that’s completely understandable.
“But no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view.
“We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu.”
Mr Javid said that while the economic arguments for opening up are well known, for him the health arguments are “equally compelling”.
Prof Reicher said on Twitter it is “frightening” that Mr Javid “still thinks Covid is flu”.
He added: “Above all, it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is ‘this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing.
“Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared to all but confirm reports about the easing of restrictions as he said the impact of the vaccine on preventing serious illness meant it was time to “roll back” the “difficult” restrictions that have been in place for the past 16 months.
Mr Jenrick told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “It does look as if, thanks to the success of the vaccine programme, that we now have the scope to roll back those restrictions and return to normality as far as possible.”
According to The Sunday Times, mask wearing will become voluntary in all settings and the one metre-plus rule in hospitality venues will end, meaning a return to drinking at the bar without the requirement for table service.
Mass events, including festivals, will also be allowed under the proposals for the final stage of the road map out of lockdown, the paper said.
Cabinet minister Mr Jenrick said: “It does feel as if we are now in the final furlong, in a period in which we can start to live with the virus and move on with our lives.
The possibility of a wholesale easing of restrictions will come as a blow to senior doctors, with the British Medical Association petitioning for some measures to remain in place to arrest the “alarming” rise in Covid-19 cases in England.
The latest Government figures show that, as of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 24,248 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, while a further 15 people had died within 28 days of testing positive.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
It comes after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that cases in England nearly doubled in a week, with one in 260 people in private households having Covid in the week to June 26 – the highest level since the week to February 27.