Boris Johnson will on Monday signal the end to an array of strict Covid-19 measures from July 19 including “working from home guidance”, the enforced wearing of face coverings and the one-metre distancing rule.
With England’s vaccination programme well under way, the prime minister will say the time has come to open up the economy and “learn to live” with the virus — albeit without throwing caution to the wind.
Johnson will concede that hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 will continue — as with the flu — but at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme. Some 86 per cent of UK adults have now had at least one jab while 63 per cent have had two.
“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,” the prime minister will say, adding: “But I must stress that the pandemic is not over . . . we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from Covid and exercise judgment when going about our lives.”
Downing Street said Johnson would set out the findings of reviews into social distancing and Covid-19 certification. He will also update the public on “the next steps for care home visits”.
Johnson is expected to end restrictions on mass gatherings and reopen nightclubs and theatres, bringing relief to those hard-pressed sectors. “Next steps on the 1m plus rule, face coverings, and working from home will be set out,” Number 10 said.
Many companies would welcome an end of the “work from home” guidance although plenty are prepared to allow more flexible working patterns to continue after the pandemic.
One source said the “work from home” advice would be “softened” to put the onus on employers to decide whether staff should come back to office. “They don’t want to mandate too much, so it will be about staff doing it where they can . . . without everyone rushing back,” he said.
Robert Jenrick, communities secretary, confirmed on Sunday that people would no longer be forced to wear facial coverings from July 19.
“I think we are going to now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions,” he told Sky News. “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.”
Jenrick’s comments came just days after the British Medical Association, the trade body for doctors, called for people to keep wearing masks to stop surging case numbers having a “devastating impact” on the NHS and economy.
Scientists have raised concerns about the final lifting of restrictions in just two weeks given that millions of people will not be fully immunised: recent data showed cases jumped by 74 per cent week on week.
Johnson will say that the final loosening will only occur if the government’s “four tests” have been met — which will be confirmed only after a review of the latest data on July 12.
The prime minister is expected to say that people who have received two doses of a vaccine will not have to self-isolate or take coronavirus tests if they are alerted that they have come into contact with someone carrying the virus.
Meanwhile, ministers are discussing proposals so that children are not forced to self-isolate at home if others in their “school bubble” get a positive test. Instead, schools would insist on regular testing for pupils under the proposals being discussed.
Current guidelines require schools to send home all close contacts of positive Covid cases to self-isolate for 10 days, which in many circumstances means sending home year or class sized “bubbles”.
As they near the end of term, schools are struggling to manage the disruption and after absences more than quadrupled across the month 385,000 children were off school because of Covid on June 24.
Officials said they did not recognise a report that the enforced use of track and trace measures in bars, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and museums would be dropped.
The government has loosened most restrictions over the past month through a phased “road map” out of lockdown, but the final reopening was delayed from June 21 to July 19.
Sajid Javid, health secretary, wrote that there were both economic and health arguments for “opening up” after three lengthy lockdowns.
“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,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.