Johnson expected to confirm lifting of remaining Covid restrictions

Boris Johnson is under pressure from medics to urge caution. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

England is “tantalisingly close” to lifting all remaining coronavirus restrictions, Boris Johnson has said, as he is expected to push ahead with the next stage of unlocking.

The Prime Minister will host a press conference on Monday where he is expected to say that the country can move to Step 4 of the plan to lift measures, including ending the legal requirement to wear masks.

But he will also warn cases will rise as rules designed to suppress the coronavirus are removed.

Mr Johnson will host a press conference on Monday afternoon while Health Secretary Sajid Javid will announce the plans in Parliament at the same time.

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The announcement comes amid criticism of the government's plan to lift rules on mandatory mask wearing.

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jo Stevens, said removing all restrictions was "reckless at a time when infections are rising rapidly."

She told ITV News there needed to be "a balanced approach” with mandatory mask wearing on public transport and health settings. 

Health Minister Edward Argar acknowledged that hospitalisations and deaths could rise as restrictions eased but said it would be "nowhere near to the same scale as we saw with a similar level of cases" earlier in the pandemic.

He added he would continue to carry his mask "in my pocket in future days and in future weeks."

"It’s about following guidance, reading the guidance and understanding it," he told ITV News.

"I believe in the innate common sense of the British people, we’re moving away from an obligation in law to clear guidance, caution and people exercising personal responsibility."

Downing Street said the unlocking would be based on four tests – the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence that the vaccine is causing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge in admissions, and that no new variants of concern throw progress off track.

The PM said: “We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our road map out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning.

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“While the phenomenal vaccine rollout has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet.

“Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS.”

As of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 31,772 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the Government said.

A further 26 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 128,425.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Moving to Step 4 was delayed by four weeks to ensure all adults had been offered a vaccine.

Government data up to July 10 shows that of the 80,646,232 Covid jabs given in the UK so far, 45,881,721 were first doses, a rise of 93,763 on the previous day.

Some 34,764,511 were second doses, an increase of 211,446.

Analysis from Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge suggests that vaccines have so far prevented an estimated 8.5 million infections and 30,000 deaths in England alone.

The next stage of lifting measures is seen as a further step towards normality and moving out of the pandemic.

The Euros final at Wembley on Sunday was one of the Government’s test events at returning to mass gatherings, with more than 60,000 fans packing the stadium for a match against Italy which England agonisingly lost on penalties.

All those attending needed to have proof of a negative Covid-19 test or full vaccination 14 days before the fixture.

However some ticketless fans managed to breach security to get into the stadium.

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A number of such events have been held during the delay to lifting measures to monitor Covid-19 infection rates.

Downing Street also said the delay has meant the end of restrictions is closer to the school holidays, where transmission rates are expected to be lower.

On the other hand, reopening later in the year could put more pressure on the NHS as the health service contends with other illnesses such as flu.

Meanwhile, Scotland is “past the worst” of the current peak in coronavirus cases, the country’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said.

On Sunday, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC: “One of the things that we’ve done, obviously, we’ve got the vaccination programme, but we’re already planning… the NHS is planning for co-administration of the Covid boost starting early September, with flu, because we’ve had very little flu circulating in communities because of the lockdown.”