- Coronavirus pandemic
media captionSajid Javid on England's lockdown easing: "If not now, when?"
England will move to the final stage of easing Covid restrictions on 19 July, the health secretary has confirmed.
It means almost all legal restrictions on social contact will be removed.
Sajid Javid told the Commons cases could reach 100,000 a day later in the summer but he did not believe this would put "unsustainable pressure on the NHS".
Vaccinations had created a "protective wall", which would mean "we can withstand a summer wave" he added.
Mr Javid said now was the right time to get the nation "closer to normal life".
"To those who say why take this step now, I say if not now when?" he said, adding that a further delay would risk pushing the virus towards winter when it would have an advantage.
"There will never be a perfect time to take this step because we simply cannot eradicate this virus – whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away."
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It means that from 19 July, the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some enclosed public places will be lifted in England, there will no longer be any limits on how many people can meet and the 1m-plus distancing rule will be removed.
However, Mr Javid said face coverings were still "expected and recommended" in crowded indoor areas.
Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen and capacity limits will be removed for all venues and events.
But the health secretary said businesses and large events would be encouraged to use Covid status certification – so-called domestic vaccine passports – in "high-risk settings".
These would allow people to show whether they are double-jabbed, have had a negative test result or have natural immunity after recovering from Covid-19, using the NHS app.
Mr Javid said it was important people should act with "caution and with personal responsibility".
For example, he said people should return to work "gradually" if they are currently working from home and "should try to meet people outside where possible".
Freedom Day, as it has been dubbed, is on.
But make no mistake this is not where England – and the rest of the UK for that matter – hoped it would be.
Hospital admissions will almost certainly rise above 1,000 a day in the coming weeks – similar to what the NHS would see in the depths of winter for all types of respiratory infection.
It's not enough to overwhelm the NHS, but it does mean less non-Covid care.
However, infection rates were always going to rise at this point of the unlocking and so the big question is when and at what point this wave will peak.
There's huge uncertainty about this. Small things can make a big difference, including how people behave.
That's why government scientists have pushed behind the scenes for ministers to change tone on mask-wearing in crowded indoor places – if nothing else it reinforces the message that infection rates still do matter.
But those same scientists are also in broad agreement that now is the best time, rather than wait until the autumn when other viruses like flu begin to circulate.
The decision is a gamble, but it's a calculated one, they say.
The requirement to self-isolate if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace will remain in place until 16 August, when it will be relaxed for people who are fully vaccinated and for the under-18s. If someone tests positive for the virus they will still be legally required to self-isolate.
Wales is due to review its restrictions on 15 July, while Scotland is expected to move to level 0 – the lowest level of restrictions in its roadmap – on 19 July and lift most legal restrictions on 9 August. Northern Ireland is due to ease some Covid measures on 26 July.
Labour criticised the government's approach to unlocking on 19 July as "high risk" and "fatalistic".
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told MPs in the Commons: "Instead of caution [the health secretary] is putting his foot down the on the accelerator while throwing the seat belt off."
"That means potentially thousands (of people) suffering debilitating Long Covid. It means, as more cases arise, potentially more escape and the threat of new more transmissible variants emerging," he added.
On Monday, the UK recorded 34,471 new cases, as well as six deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
It is the sixth consecutive day cases have been above 30,000.
The number of deaths recorded on Mondays are often lower due to reporting lags over the weekend.
Mr Javid said case numbers would "get a lot worse before they get better" and the average number of daily cases has doubled over the past 11 days.
He said hospital admissions were also rising – but at a lower rate than the previous wave because of the vaccination programme, which had "severely weakened" the link between people catching Covid and becoming seriously ill.
More than 45.9 million people – or 87.2% of adults in the UK – have now had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. And more than 34.8 million – around two-thirds of adults – have had both doses.
The final stage of England's roadmap out of lockdown, which was originally scheduled for 21 June, was delayed to allow more people to be vaccinated.
Mr Javid said the government was "on track" to beat its target to offer every adult a first dose by 19 July.