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England's lockdown laws will be axed in seven days' time, the government has confirmed today.
Legal restrictions on wearing masks, the ‘rule of six’ indoors and the ban on nightclubs opening will all go from July 19.
The move to step four was branded a "major milestone" by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, and comes as promised last week.
But in a major shift, Boris Johnson will tighten advice on Covid passports, masks, vulnerable people and working from home compared to what we thought it'd say this time last week.
The Prime Minister's promise to let people use their 'personal judgement' is still technically true, with legal restrictions still being dropped from July 19.
Yet it will in reality be hemmed in by a flood of 'voluntary' guidance, published over the coming days, on key issues in the pandemic.
Covid passports set to begin on NHS app – with three ways to get into venues
Vulnerable to be warned to avoid indoor spaces and unvaccinated people all summer
Mr Javid announced case numbers will "get a lot worse before they get better", warning MPs the UK could reach 100,000 a day later this summer.
Praising the “wall” of the vaccine programme, he told MPs: “We believe this wall means we can withstand a summer wave.
“And while the wall would be higher still if we waited until winter, we know the wave would be much more dangerous.
“So while we know there are risks with any decision, this is the most responsible decision we can take.”
But Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth warned the soaring case numbers and unlocking would lead to thousands suffering long Covid and a heightened risk of new variants developing.
Someone getting a test for Covid (stock)
(Image: Robin Utrecht/REX/Shutterstock)
Speaking after Sajid Javid’s statement, the Labour MP declared: “He’s putting his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seatbelts off.”
He added: “Labour would continue with mandatory mask wearing.”
Meanwhile, making the changes now could threaten another set of restrictions this winter. Mr Javid refused to guarantee step four would be irreversible, saying: “In September we will have a review to make sure we’re properly set up for Autumn and for winter.”
So what is being announced this week? We take you through it as much as possible.
New guidance set to be announced this week Covid passports
The most significant change today is for crowded venues – which will now be urged to use Covid passports at just a few days’ notice.
Despite government guidance last week making clear ’Covid status certification’ would not be a legal requirement, it’s now emerged it will be advised for any “high-risk” venue.
That means nightclubs, gigs, sports and even some crowded city centre pubs will be “encouraged” to ask all punters to show they’ve had either the vaccine, a negative rapid test or a past Covid infection to get in.
The NHS app (which is different to the NHS Covid-19 app) will allow people to show one of three things to enter a venue:
- Their double-jabbed at least two weeks ago status;
- Evidence of a negative lateral flow test in the last 48 hours; or
- Evidence they have antibodies because they tested positive for Covid by PCR less than six months ago.
Talks between government and industry about exactly how it will work are expected to take place over the coming days and weeks, despite the fact changes are supposed to start next Monday.
It’s understood nightclubs will be allowed to reopen at full capacity without face masks – despite the tightened up guidance on masks below.
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There is no single list of high-risk venues or venue types. It is understood they could even be interpreted as including busy city centre pubs, where capacity is similar to a nightclub. That raises the prospect that pub punters could be asked for a Covid passport.
Officially high risk venues will include large events where significant numbers of people who don’t normally mix gather together, without social distancing – particularly indoors, and particularly if less ventilated. Those issues of crowding and enclosed spaces are key.
Businesses will be encouraged to use certification but there will be no legal force behind this. It’s understood authorities will have no power to stop a nightclub packing out to capacity without asking punters to produce Covid passports on the way in.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people
More than 2million clinically extremely vulnerable people will be advised to consider avoiding crowded places and unvaccinated people all summer.
This group – some of whom aren’t properly protected even if they have the vaccine, due to immune system issues – will be issued with fresh guidance later this week.
It is thought the guidance will go through ways in which clinically extremely vulnerable people can look to protect themselves at the moment.
This will for instance include:
- Getting a vaccination now for those who have not yet taken it up;
- Considering scenarios where they may be more at risk;
- How to make themselves safer by meeting outside if possible, or looking for ventilation;
- Considering if they are meeting people who are vaccinated, so as to be less at risk of catching Covid from them;
- Advice around health and safety at work.
It is likely this guidance will have some things in common with guidance for the general public – for instance, meeting outdoors where possible.
But it is likely to prompt furious claims that vulnerable people are being relegated to second-class citizens or excluded from society.
SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford told the Health Secretary: “As vulnerable people can’t count on others wearing masks, for them July 19 all not be Freedom Day but the exact opposite.”
Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson asked of Mr Javid: “Is he pursuing a survival of the fittest policy where the most vulnerable will be thrown to the wolves?”
The government will “expect and recommend” people in England to wear face masks in “crowded areas such as public transport”, No10 said.
That is a tightening up from last week, when guidance merely said face coverings “reduce your risk and the risk to others” but people were told they would be able to make a personal judgement.
Minsters who claimed they would remove their face masks are also set to keep them on in another U-turn. Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “All ministers will abide by the guidance that will be published today, and I’m confident they will do so.”
But all face mask laws will still be scrapped, and shops will not have any legal basis on which they can enforce mask-wearing, even if staff are clinically vulnerable.
However, shops, pharmacists and others can ask customers to wear a face mask – and the government expects people who are asked to wear a face mask to do so, out of consideration for other people.
Face masks will still be recommended
(Image: Getty Images)
Working from home
Finally, working from home guidance will still be scrapped as planned – but the government now admits the return to work will only be “gradual”.
The PM’s spokesman said: “While the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, we expect and recommend a gradual return to the workplace over the summer.”
It will still be up to firms whether and how fast to bring people back, and the government is not setting limits on numbers of people who should be in the office per week.
What we already knew Key protections that remain in place
- Testing when you have symptoms, and ongoing targeted asymptomatic testing.
- The need to isolate when positive or contacted by Test and Trace
- Measures at border: ongoing hotel quarantine for red list, and self-isolation for non-UK residents or the unvaccinated who come from amber list countries
- There will be guidance to individual businesses and the vulnerable while prevalence is high about face masks
The one metre plus social distancing rule will be scrapped.
You’ll no longer be told to stay two metres apart from people who aren’t in your household or bubble (or one metre with mitigations like masks or screens).
People will also not have to gather in groups of six or fewer indoors socially, or
The exception will be in specific places – such as at the UK border (airport arrival halls), and if you test positive and are on your way to self-isolation.
Using QR codes to sign into venues
People will no longer be required to scan in using QR codes but venues can still request this if they want or people can scan if they want.
Travel to amber list countries
From July 19, double jabbed adults in England will no longer have to self-isolate for 10 days after returning from amber list countries.
And advice not to take holidays to amber list countries will be dropped.
Double-jabbed returnees will only have to take three PCR tests, not two – and all children will be exempt, even if their parents aren't vaccinated.
However, the red list remains with £1,750-a-head hotel quarantine, and the policy currently only includes people resident in the UK, not tourists or expats.
Attending nightclubs, concerts and sporting events with venues at full capacity
After 16 months, you will be able to dance the night away with your friends.
And there is hope that you will all be able to get in as venues no longer have limits on how many people can be in these environments at once.
Capacity limits will also be scrapped on sports stadiums, gigs, theatre, cinema and other entertainment.
But this date only applies to England.
Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have not yet indicated when their venues will open to clubbers.
The original delay in lifting the restrictions came due to the outbreak of the ‘double mutant’ strain of coronavirus, known as the Delta strain.
Getting your second jab faster
The vaccine rollout will be further accelerated by reducing the dosing interval for under-40s from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
This matches the shorter eight-week interval that already exists for over-40s between their first and second dose.
It means the government now expects all adults to have been offered the chance for a second dose by mid-September.
Ordering at the bar
You can stretch your legs and order drinks and food at the bar if you're at a pub or restaurant, instead of waiting to be served or making orders on your phone.