Covid: Social distancing and mask wearing in England to be scrapped from July 19, Boris Johnson says

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks has the details of what the PM announced for the final easing of England's lockdown

Rules on mask-wearing, social distancing and limits on gatherings will be scrapped in England in the final step of Covid lockdown easing, currently planned for July 19.

In a Downing Street briefing, Boris Johnson said the government would "move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus."

The PM warned, however, this was not the moment to get "demob happy".

He said the pandemic was "far from over" with the possibility that there could be "50,000 cases detected per day by July 19".

There would also be rising hospital admissions and that the country should "reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from Covid," the PM said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the proposal was "reckless" and called for a "balanced approach" to lockdown easing.

Lockdown rules in England: What's changing from July 19

What has happened to social distancing and the rule of six?

The 'one metre plus' rule has been scrapped entirely, as of July 19 in England. However, some guidance to maintain social distancing in certain situations will remain in place of the legal restrictions.

Social distancing guidance will continue if someone is Covid positive and self-isolating, or in airports, or other ports of entry, to avoid travellers arriving from amber or red-list countries mixing with those from green list areas.

Limits on social contact in England have disappeared, meaning the end of the rule of six indoors and the limit of 30 people for outdoor gatherings.

Do I still need to wear a face mask?

There is now no legal requirements to wear face coverings - but guidance still encourages using masks in some settings, including hospitals, healthcare settings and in crowded enclosed public spaces.

Has the working from home guidance changed?

The guidance on working from home has gone. It's ultimately down to employers to decide whether to keep staff at home or in the office, but the government say employers are able to plan the return of staff to the workplace.

What about weddings and funerals?

The current limits on numbers of people who can attend weddings, funerals and other life events has ended.

What's happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The changes to Covid rules announced by Boris Johnson, only impact England and will not change regulations in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland.

The Welsh Government “would like to move together” with other parts of the UK in lifting coronavirus restrictions but will only do so if it is “right for Wales”, health minister Eluned Morgan said on Monday 5 July.

As of July 19, restrictions in Scotland have eased, with all areas of the country moving to level 0. The government is aiming to lift all major restrictions in Scotland by August 9.

In Northern Ireland, some significant restrictions have already been eased including allowing the resumption of live music and the lifting of caps on organised outdoor gatherings.

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Mr Johnson said the vaccine had allowed the country to go ahead with further unlocking, despite rising cases, and denied calls from some to delay the final stage of the roadmap.

"If we can't reopen in the next few weeks... we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal," Mr Johnson said.

He added the government must "balance the risks" between the virus and "continuing with legally enforced restrictions that inevitably take their toll on people's lives and livelihoods, on people's health and mental health".

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston has analysis on what next for self-isolation rules, with rising numbers of cases causing problems for schools and businesses

Labour branded the proposed lockdown changes "reckless".

"Lifting all protections in one go when the infection rate is going up is reckless," the party's leader Sir Keir Starmer said.

"A balanced approach, a proper plan, would say 'keep key protections' - one of them would be masks in enclosed places and on public transport - that's a common sense position."

The Labour leader said "more ventilation" was "essential" and called for "proper payments" for people needing to self-isolate.

The move is 'reckless' says Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

Speaking alongside the PM at the briefing was England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty who acknowledged there was a “mixed” view among scientists on the timing of lifting restrictions.

The CMO said he had “quite a strong view” that doing so in summer has advantages over autumn.

Mr Whitty said: "At a certain point, you move to the situation where instead of actually averting hospitalisations and deaths, you move over to just delaying them.

"So you’re not actually changing the number of people who will go to hospital or die, you may change when they happen.

"And there is quite a strong view by many people, including myself actually, that going in the summer has some advantages, all other things being equal, to opening up into the autumn when schools are going back and when we’re heading into the winter period when the NHS tends to be under greatest pressure for many other reasons."

Watch Boris Johnson's announcement on Step 4 out of England's lockdown - in full

Mr Johnson also announced the government would work with the travel industry to remove "the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country."

An update will be made this week by the transport secretary, he added.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid addressed the House of Commons at the same time as the Downing Street update. He told MPs that vaccines are “building a wall of protection against hospitalisation”.

Elaborating on guidance around mask wearing, he said it would be “sensible” to wear a mask on crowded public transport.

Mr Javid told the Commons: “For example, if you’re on public transport, let’s say a very crowded Tube, I think it would be sensible to wear a mask – not least for respect for others.

“But if you’re the only person in a carriage late at night on the East Coast Mainline then you can choose much more easily not to wear a mask because there’s hardly anyone else around.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the government’s strategy “accepts infections will surge further and continue to rise steeply”, adding it also accepts hospital admissions will continue to rise until a possible peak later in the summer.

He told the Commons: “Some of those hospitalised will sadly die and thousands upon thousands, mostly children and younger people but others as well, will be left exposed to a virus mainly because they have no vaccination protection – but we also know even when doubled jabbed you can catch and transmit the virus – and many of them will be at risk of serious long-term chronic illness, the personal impact of which may be felt for years to come.

“Even though the vaccination may have broken the link with mortality, there are still questions about the link between morbidity.”

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Industry has reacted positively to Mr Johnson's announcement, Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general Tony Danker welcomed the reopening of the economy.

He said: "Firms will be placing a premium on close dialogue with their employees in boosting confidence and will be demonstrating to customers how they are reopening safely and with their interests at the forefront."

"Meanwhile government and the Health & Safety Executive should continue to play a critical role in helping to inform good decision-making and risk assessments."

Workers in public facing roles have expressed concern about the scrapping of mandatory mask wearing - ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot reports

Mr Danker called on the government for clarity on workplace testing, mask wearing on public transport, and the future of test and trace.

Those in the arts and entertainment industry expressed approval for the announcement too.

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said the proposal was "very welcome news for a sector that has been hugely impacted by the pandemic."

Mr Morgan said more information was needed, however, on self-isolation rules.

"Several shows that have recently reopened at reduced capacity have had to cancel suddenly when a cast or crew member has to self-isolate. We are encouraged that the Prime Minister mentioned that a different system would be introduced for people who are fully vaccinated, and look forward to hearing further details."

London's West End theatre district has fallen silent amid the coronavirus crisis. Credit: PA

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said details around masks in workplaces must be clarified, along with changes to rules on sick pay and enshrining rights to flexible working in law.

"As the work from home guidance ends, employers must acknowledge that one size does not fit all," she said.

"No one should miss out on flexible working. Ministers must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job.

"Otherwise there will be a new class divide between those who can work flexibly from home, and those who can’t."