Johnson set to ease England's COVID rules

·2-min read

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge caution as he confirms plans to remove nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England from July 19, despite a surge in cases to the highest levels in months.

Last week, Johnson set out proposals to eliminate rules on mask-wearing and social contact, and the instruction to work from home where possible, on what he has called a "one-way road to freedom".

He will announce his final decision at a news conference on Monday afternoon.

"The global pandemic is not over yet," he said in a statement released late on Sunday.

"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."

Britain has implemented one of the world's fastest vaccination programs, with more than 87 per cent of adults having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 66 per cent having received two.

The government argues that the fact that deaths and hospital admissions remain far lower than before, even though cases have surged, is proof that the vaccines are saving lives and it is safer to open up.

Nevertheless, recent weeks have seen a striking surge in infections, to rates unseen since the winter, with some epidemiologists voicing concern that the Euro 2020 soccer championships might have helped to fuel the rise.

Britain, which ranks 20th in the world for per-capita reported deaths from COVID-19, on Sunday reported a further 31,772 COVID-19 cases and 26 additional deaths within 28 days of a positive test, up 31 per cent and 44 per cent respectively in the space of a week.

London's Wembley Stadium hosted the final on Sunday between England and Italy. Large crowds gathered in London, including around the stadium, and there were reports that some had gained entry to the match without tickets to join the more than 60,000 who had them.

"Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?" World Health Organisation (WHO) epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted in the late stages of the match.

Johnson indicated last week that a legal requirement to wear masks in indoor public settings would be ended, although vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday said guidelines would state that "people are expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces", he said.

Johnson's office said the green light to lift restrictions depended on meeting four tests: enough people being vaccinated, vaccines reducing hospitalisations and deaths, hospitals being free from pressure and variants not posing too great a risk.

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