What will change on 19 July - and what won’t
Almost all social distancing rules are being scrapped but self-isolations stay
Boris Johnson has warned that life in England will not "simply revert" to normal instantly when the country moves to the final stage of easing Covid restrictions on 19 July.
Although almost all legal limits of social contact and gatherings will be lifted, the use of face masks, domestic vaccine passports and continued social distancing in crowded spaces will be strongly advised, as the prime minister warns that “this pandemic is not over”.
Johnson told a Downing Street press conference on Monday that the government believed it was right to go ahead with so-called Freedom Day, but that the nation should proceed “with caution”.
Government scientists are predicting a surge in Covid cases following the easing that could see hospital admissions reaching between 1,000 and 2,000 a day in the coming weeks, with coronavirus deaths rising to up to 200 a day by mid-August. However, the experts have also emphasised that “projections are more uncertain now than at any point in the pandemic”, as even small changes can affect modelling data, the Financial Times reports.
What is changing?
Next Monday marks the beginning of the fourth and final step in Downing Street’s “roadmap” out of coronavirus restrictions in England.
“Freedom Day, as it has been dubbed, is on,” writes the BBC’s health correspondent Nick Triggle. “But make no mistake, this is not where England - and the rest of the UK for that matter - hoped it would be.”
Of course, “living under Covid restrictions forever was never going to happen”, says The Independent’s Shaun Lintern, but “with the health service under so much pressure already, the situation could quickly backfire”.
While virtually all legal restrictions will be lifted, some government guidance will remain as the UK contends with a third wave of Covid outbreaks fuelled by variant strains of the virus. Many people “will feel obliged to follow” the official advice, says The Telegraph, but “this is not exactly the reinstatement of common sense and personal judgement that was anticipated”.
The “one metre plus” social distancing rule is being scrapped along with all legal limits on the number of people who can meet either inside or outdoors.
However, the government advises that “in order to minimise risk at a time of high prevalence, you should limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with, and increase close contact gradually”.
The legal requirement to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces is being removed, but the government “expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport”.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said that masks will remain compulsory on transport in the capital.
Working from home
The government is “no longer instructing people to work from home if they can”, but is encouraging a “gradual return” over the summer.
As ITV notes, it is “ultimately down to employers to decide” whether to keep staff at home, but the new rules will allow employers to plan a return of stuff to the workplace if they wish.
Weddings and funerals
All current limits of the number of people who can attend weddings, funerals and other large gatherings are being lifted.
Nightclubs will be opening their doors to party-goers for the first time since March 2020, as all capacity limits are removed for all venues and events.
However, nightclubs and other large capacity venues will be encouraged to use the NHS Covid Pass - otherwise known as domestic vaccine passports - as “a condition of entry” in “large crowded settings where people are likely to be in close proximity to others outside their household”, the government says.
Johnson is called on clubs and other venues to adopt the vaccine passports system as a “matter of social responsibility”. And the government says it “reserves the right to mandate certification in certain venues at a later date if necessary”.
What is not changing?
Anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus, or who has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace after coming into contact with a case, will still be required to self-isolate.
However, the rules will be changing in England from 16 August, after which people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid will no longer have to self-isolate if a close contact tests positive for the virus. Instead, double-jabbed people will be asked to take one PCR test as soon as possible to ensure they haven’t been infected. If the test is negative - and they don’t develop any symptoms of infection - they won’t need to take further tests or isolate.
People who have had both vaccine doses need to wait two weeks after their last jab for protection to take full effect, however, so the new rules only apply once this period has passed.
Under-18s who have close contact with a Covid case also no longer have to isolate after 16 August, and will instead be advised if they need to be tested.
The new rules for children are intended to “stop situations where entire classes or year group bubbles have to self-isolate at home”, explains the BBC.
But regardless of age or vaccination status, anyone who tests positive for Covid or develops symptoms still needs to self-isolate.