People in England will be told it will be left to their “judgement” to manage coronavirus risks as the prime minister prepares to restore freedoms on July 19.
Boris Johnson will lead a Downing Street press conference on Monday where he will tell the public the country must “begin to learn to live with this virus” in the clearest indication yet he is preparing to do away with a swathe of restrictions on daily life.
Mr Johnson will update the nation on the future of the one metre-plus rule in hospitality venues, the use of face coverings and work from home guidance, with multiple reports suggesting they will all be scrapped.
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It has been suggested that from so-called “freedom day” on July 19, mask wearing will become voluntary, while social distancing in pubs and bars will end – along with needing to use a QR code to check-in – meaning a return to drinking at the bar without the requirement for table service.
Mass events, including festivals, will also reportedly be allowed under the proposals for the final stage of the road map out of lockdown.
Alongside the press conference, Health Secretary Sajid Javid will address the Commons on Monday to update MPs on any changes.
Both addresses - to MPs and Mr Johnson's to the public - are expected to happen at about 5pm.
Care Minister Helen Whately said the public would be "supported to make more personal choices about how to protect themselves" but added there were circumstances where she would continue to wear a face mask
She told ITV News: "There may be circumstances where you and I chose, to think it’s a good idea to wear a mask. Indoor, crowded spaces, things like that.
"But look, it’s going to be a question of personal responsibility."
She added: "I’m looking forward to wearing my mask a lot less but I don’t expect to throw them all away.
"There may be occasions when I think 'okay this is a good time to wear one.'"
NHS England’s medical director said the health service is preparing itself to “learn to live with Covid”.
Prof Stephen Powis told BBC Breakfast that rises in infection numbers were “geographically very localised” and higher in the north-west of the country.
Asked if there could be differences in levels of local restrictions in the future he said: “Obviously, that’s a matter for Government but it seems to me that we are now proceeding now on a national level rather than a regional level.
“The NHS always has its local and regional plans so… we have got well used to coping with this.
“We will have to learn to live with Covid now and that is what the NHS is preparing to do.”
The Prime Minister is expected to say on Monday: “Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our road map.
“Today we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach Step 4.
“But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks.
“As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from Covid and exercise judgment when going about our lives.”
Alongside the press conference, the Government will publish the results of its reviews into the use of so-called vaccine passports and the future of social distancing guidance, Downing Street confirmed.
Officials said the Prime Minister will provide an update on care home visits, while also pushing those who have not done so to take up the offer of a vaccine, with 86% of people in the UK having received at least one dose so far.
Cabinet ministers on Sunday appeared to prepare the ground for an easing of measures, with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick telling the BBC the Government could “roll back” restrictions due to the impact vaccines are having on reducing serious illness from Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Mr Javid said that while the economic arguments for opening up were well known, for him the health arguments were “equally compelling”.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Javid said it was time to “find ways to cope with” the virus, like the country does flu.
Despite the indications of a wholesale easing in two weeks, scientists have voiced concern about the prospect of ending restrictions at a time when cases have been rising in England.
Professor Susan Michie, an expert in health psychology and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies which advises ministers, told the Guardian: “Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new ‘variant factories’ at a very fast rate.”
Labour's Shadow Housing Secretary Lucy Powell said the public don't "feel ready for some of these changes just yet" adding the government has not "done enough to tell us the science."
She told ITV News: "Mask wearing is the least intrusive of all the restrictions, the least disruptive, yet we’re being told that will become voluntary in all circumstances.
"Yet we’re hearing nothing about the disruption to schools, to business of self-isolation or indeed travel.
"Let’s look at the issues that are causing most disruption to people and let’s look at those first and let’s take the country with us on this journey of going from living in fear of the virus to going to living alongside it.
Public Health England estimates that across the 2017/18 flu season, there were around 22,000 deaths associated with flu in England.
The latest Government figures show that, as of 9am on Sunday, there had been an additional 24,248 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK – up 66% in the past week.
However, a further 15 people were recorded to have died within 28 days of testing positive, official figures stated on Sunday, in a indication that vaccines are guarding against coronavirus-related deaths, with mortality down 1.6% in the past seven days.