Caution urged as ‘freedom’ beckons Women wearing face masks walk through Notting Hill Gate station in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson urged people on Monday (12) to show caution when nearly all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in England next week, as he emphasised that an increase in cases underlined that the pandemic was by no means over.
England will from Monday (19) be the first nation in Britain to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance.
The government says its vaccination drive – one of the world’s fastest – has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.
But what was once billed as “freedom day” is now being treated with wariness by ministers after a new surge in cases, and fears that there could be as many as 100,000 new infections a day over the summer.
Johnson set a sombre tone, defending his decision to lift most of the remaining restrictions. He said the four conditions the government set itself had been met, but also warned the country that more people would die from the virus.
“We think now is the right moment to proceed… But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution, and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over,” he said.
“To take these steps we must be cautious and must be vaccinated,” the prime minister said, adding that England would see “more hospitalisations and more deaths from Covid”.
“I generally urge everyone to keep thinking of others and to consider the risks,” he added
Meanwhile, health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs people should still wear masks in crowded areas such as on public transport and should only gradually move back to the workplace.
He added that the government would encourage businesses holding mass events to use health certification as a way to open up.
Business welcomed the move, but also called on the government to offer clearer guidance.
Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies still did not have the full picture they needed. “Business leaders aren’t public health experts and cannot be expected to know how best to operate when confusing and sometimes contradictory advice is coming from official sources,” she said.
More than 87 per cent of adults in Britain have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 66 per cent have received both.
The government said the fact that deaths and hospital admissions remain far lower than before, even though cases have risen sharply, is proof that the vaccines are saving lives and it is now safer to open up.
But the surge in infections to rates unseen since the winter has raised concerns, with some epidemiologists saying the Euro 2020 championships might have helped fuel the rise.
Britain, which ranks 20th in the world for per-capita reported deaths from Covid-19, on Monday (12) reported a further 34,471 Covid-19 cases, up 26 per cent in a week, and six additional deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Wembley Stadium hosted the Euro 2020 final last Sunday (11) between England and Italy. Large crowds gathered in London, including around the stadium.
There were reports that some had gained entry to the match without tickets to join the more than 60,000 who had them, much to the dismay of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?” WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted during the match.
“The #COVID19 pandemic is not taking a break tonight …#SARSCoV2 #DeltaVariant will take advantage of unvaccinated people, in crowded settings, unmasked, screaming/shouting/ singing. Devastating.”