Boris Johnson will tell the public on Monday that they will no longer be bound by Covid laws on facemasks and social distancing but should instead exercise their own “judgment” when restrictions are lifted on July 19.
However, despite scrapping compulsory face masks, The Telegraph understands people will still be told in government guidance they should consider wearing a covering in crowded enclosed places.
Ministers will also warn that some shops and public transport may still enforce the wearing of masks even though it would no longer be a legal requirement to do so.
The Prime Minister will tell the public they need to “carefully manage” the risks of Covid as he sets out plans for the final steps of his roadmap at a Downing Street press conference this afternoon. He will give the final go-ahead next Monday to lift the restrictions after reviewing the data.
“Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our roadmap. Today we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach step 4,” he will say.
“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 judgement when going about our lives.”
Ministers said it marked the moment the control of the pandemic has been handed from the state telling people “what to do” to the citizen “taking responsibility.
As well as compulsory face masks, the one-metre social distancing rule, rule of six indoors and limits on gatherings of more than 30 are expected to be ditched from July 19.
He will also signal a relaxation in rules that demand people must work from home where they can and lift some of the final restrictions on care home visits from mid-July.
Ministers are expected later this week to set out plans for fully vaccinated Britons to travel to amber countries without having to quarantine for 10 days on their return.
They want to give the go ahead for the double-jab travel plan to start from July 19 but it will depend on whether border technology recognising holidaymakers’ vaccine status can be made to work in time and a testing regime put in place for children returning with their parents.
Travel countries on the red, green and amber list
Ministers will also outline plans this week to end the requirement for schools to send home "bubbles" of students from July 19, and the policy’s potential replacement with a system of daily tests.
However, it is the approach to face masks that could cause the greatest confusion. Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, admitted different people will come to different conclusions” on masks as they were allowed to exercise “personal choice” instead of being told what to do by the state.
Asked if he would be getting rid of it, he said: "I will, I don’t particularly want to wear a mask. I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it,” he said.
However, Professor Adam Finn, from the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said mask wearing was extremely valuable under certain circumstances and he planned to continue wearing his “indefinitely.
“On a personal level I shall certainly be continuing to wear a mask if I’ve got any symptoms or if I’m in an enclosed space with lots of other people for a prolonged period of time, indefinitely in fact," he said.
Face masks poll
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said: “Some people may choose to wear face masks in particular circumstances, such as crowded environments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those habits to reduce infections are a good thing to keep."
Hospitality chiefs warned some pubs, restaurants and hotels would continue to require them to reassure more “reticent” customers or because they are required to do so by councils which will oversee Covid risk assessments.
Private pubs and clubs will be able to set conditions on entry and could refuse to serve those who abide by the rules but public sector organisations would only be able to recommend action unless bylaws were put in place.
“There’s going to be customers who are expecting everything to fall away and there’s going to be places that they won’t be able to do that,” said Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of Hospitality UK, said.
“I think there might be a temptation of local authorities, that needs to be resisted, to put in place actual fixed regulations or rules that are more restrictive than they need to be.”
Transport for London has also indicated it could require face masks on the London Underground if it helps to reassure customers to return to the Tube.
“If Government advice is to drop masks, we will still take into account what our customers have said,” said Andy Byford, the commissioner of Transport for London.. “What our customers have said is that they want to see a clean, safe, orderly environment.
Public transport may still enforce the wearing of masks even though it would no longer be a legal requirement to do so
The Government will urge people to apply “common sense” and consider wearing them in busy enclosed spaces. “As with handwashing, we will still be encouraging people that it is probably sensible to wear a mask in a busy enclosed space,” said a source.
“You don’t have to wear them but if shops, pubs or restaurants demand that you do, we will advise people to be mindful of that and stick to it because it is their premises.”
Mr Johnson will today acknowledge the data and scientific modelling suggest that cases will continue to rise as restrictions are eased, but he will say the link to hospitalisations and deaths has been severely weakened if not broken due to the vaccination programme.
Official figures showed there had been 24,248 Covid cases in the last 24 hours, up 161 per cent on a fortnight ago and highest daily figure since January, but only 15 more people had died as more than half English residents have now been double-jabbed.
Some UK scientists warned however, that the lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions was like building new “variant factories” at a very fast rate.
Prof Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, said it was frightening to have ministers “who wans to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is “this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing.”