Enforced mask wearing will end and social distancing will no longer be required as part of “freedom day” unlocking in England on July 19, a Cabinet minister has suggested.
Boris Johnson is understood to be preparing to update the nation this week on his plans for easing coronavirus restrictions in England, with multiple newspapers suggesting the Prime Minister believes a host of domestic measures can end on his “terminus date”.
Separately, the newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were “compelling” health reasons to ease lockdown measures.
On Sunday, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said he was looking forward to putting his mask to one side in the near future.
Asked on Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme whether he would "get rid" of his mask, the Cabinet minister replied: “I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask. I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it.”
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The impact of the vaccine meant that the Government could “move to a much more permissive regime”, with England moving “away from any of those restrictions” from July 19, he said.
“I think we are now reaching a different phase in the virus. We are not going to put the Covid-19 virus behind us forever, we’re going to have to learn to live with it.
“But thanks to the enormous success of our vaccine programme, the fact that we’ve got to the point where 83% of adults in this country have had at least one jab, we should be able to think about how we can return to normality as much as possible.
“The data that we are seeing, and that the Prime Minister is reviewing at the moment ahead of his decision point on the road map, looks very positive.
“It does seem as if we can now move forward and move to a much more permissive regime where we move away from any of those restrictions that have been so difficult for us, and learn to live with the virus.”
Mr Jenrick said every adult getting “double vaxxed” was the “key to keeping the virus under control” into the autumn and winter.
He suggested that coronavirus control measures such as the legal requirement to wear face coverings in enclosed public settings would be left up to personal choice after the final stage of the road map.
“I think we are going to now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions, the state won’t be telling you what to do, but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgment – different people will come to different conclusions on things like masks, for example."
Mr Jenrick, asked whether Wales and Scotland would follow England’s example on July 19, told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I don’t know.
“We would like the whole of the Union to move as one. We are going to work with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to try and be as co-ordinated as possible.
“Cases are slightly different in each of the four nations but certainly in England, our view is that things are looking positive for July 19.”
According to The Sunday Times, mask wearing will become voluntary in all settings and the one metre-plus rule in hospitality venues will end in England, 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.
The Government also expects to receive the results of the taskforce reviews into the use of so-called vaccine passports and the future of social distancing to be made available this week, the Sunday Express said.
It comes as Mr Javid wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “The economic arguments for opening up are well known, but for me, the health arguments are equally compelling.
“The pandemic has hit some groups disproportionately hard. Rules that we have had to put in place have caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people’s mental health.”
Meanwhile, Downing Street on Saturday confirmed proposals to scrap quarantine requirements for those who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine are under “consideration”.
A No 10 source said it was looking at whether to drop all legal self-isolation measures for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with someone who is infected as a possibility for life after Stage 4 of the road map.
The hospitality industry, however, said such a move would not lift pressures it is currently under as a result of the NHS Test and Trace app, which bosses said was “casting the net quite wide” in terms of who it pings as a close contact of a positive case, leading to mass shutdowns of venues.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said pubs were “closing or greatly reducing their opening hours due to staff shortages caused by app pings”, despite staff testing negative for coronavirus using quick-result tests.
But reports have suggested the call for action from the trade has been heard by ministers, with The Sunday Times stating that the need to scan a QR code before entering bars, restaurants and other venues, such as museums, will become a thing of the past after July 19 – a change that would mean less chance of punters and staff being told to self-isolate by Test and Trace.
The newspaper quoted a Downing Street source who said that while modelling predicted that unlocking would lead to more cases, the success of the vaccine rollout meant the Government was “confident there will be no risk of additional pressure on the NHS”.
The possibility of a wholesale easing of restrictions will come as a blow to senior doctors, who had petitioned for some measures to remain in place to arrest the “alarming” rise in Covid-19 cases in England.
The Government confirmed that, as of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 24,885 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, while a further 18 people had died within 28 days of testing positive.
It comes as the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that about one in 260 people in private households in England had Covid in the week to June 26 – up from one in 440 in the previous week and the highest level since the week to February 27.
The British Medical Association (BMA) had said that keeping some protective measures in place was “crucial” to stop spiralling case numbers having a “devastating impact” on people’s health, the NHS, the economy and education.
Asked about the reports of lockdown easing, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “No decisions have been made but more details will be set out soon.”