Boris Johnson discusses future of social distancing rules
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England appears to be on track to lift all remaining restrictions, including those on social distancing, facemasks and work-from-home guidance soon. Ministers have been encouraged by the “very, very” low number of deaths from coronavirus and the rapid slow down in infections, which has boosted confidence that a sizeable summer wave can, in fact, be avoided. The Government is expected to hold a review on the matter within the remaining days of June, shortly after which a decision will be announced to the country.
When will social distancing end?
England could remove all social distancing restrictions by July 19, if things keep going as they are.
The Government will likely confirm that the proposed date, two weeks after June 21 ‘Freedom Day’, of July 5 is too early to lift restrictions despite the positive data emerging.
The Prime Minister is increasingly optimistic, however, that all remaining restrictions could be eased on July 19.
As long as current trends continue, the one-metre-plus social distancing rules and the ‘rule of six’ on indoor gatherings will be lifted, alongside limits on mass gatherings outdoors.
At this point in time, nightclubs are also expected to reopen after having been forced to shut their doors for more than a year.
The mandatory requirement to wear face masks or coverings on public transport and in shops unless exempt will be replaced with guidance advising people to wear them in certain circumstances.
Guidance recommending people who can do so work from home will also be dropped.
After this, it will become down to individuals and their employers to decide their future working practices.
One senior Government source told The Times that ministers want to “get as close to normal as possible” on July 19, and that emphasis will be on “personal responsibility” rather than state-legislated laws and regulation.
Media Minister John Whittingdale also raised hopes for foreign travel this week, saying he was in favour of the Government adding countries to the green list of travel restrictions later this week.
He also said the Government will publish results of mass event trials, such as the FA Cup final and Brit Awards, before deciding on the next step of lifting restrictions.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) said the current Covid data was “encouraging”.
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Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said that despite an expected rise in cases across Britain, hospital admissions and deaths are “at a much lower level compared with cases than they were previously”.
Professor Ferguson also said the rise in cases was mainly accountable to unvaccinated groups, including children.
However, one senior NHS official said the number of hospitalised patients on ventilators had climbed 41 percent in the last week as medics struggle to deal with a huge backlog of cases relating to other medical problems.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said she was concerned about another spike in infections this winter.
Ms Cordery added: “Trusts on the front line are really coming under huge pressure… they have plans in place to tackle the backlog, but with more Covid cases and demand for emergency care going up, that’s really challenging.”
Experts are largely divided on lifting all restrictions next month, with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy on Covid, David Nabarro, recommending social distancing measures and masks should remain in place if they’re to prevent “explosive outbreaks”.
He said: “That’s the way you prevent people from getting infected and that’s the key to stopping big spikes building up.
“I am advocating [for] continued physical distancing and continued mask-wearing for the time being, including in countries where there’s a lot of vaccination.”
Some ministers believe the latest data is so encouraging that Prime Minister Boris Johnson should ease restrictions on July 5, but this move is largely thought of as “implausible” given the urgent need to vaccinate more people.
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