Despite the government’s declaration that the easing of lockdown restrictions will go ahead on July 19, MPs have also encouraged people to continue to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces and not rush to return to the office.
It comes as Boris Johnson urged the country to adopt "extreme caution" as the final lockdown restrictions are lifted, during his announcement on Monday 12 July.
While step four will proceed as planned on July 19, the Prime Minister appeared to play down the notion of "freedom day" as he set out new guidance encouraging people to take back their liberties "gradually".
With Covid cases continuing to surge, Mr Johnson stressed that mask wearing would be expected in enclosed spaces and that "high risk" venues such as nightclubs should make use of voluntary Covid passports.
The Prime Minister also called on companies to stagger their transition back to office work throughout the summer, while guidance issued moments later stated that people should limit their contact with others outside of their households while the prevalence of the disease remains high.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing, Mr Johnson said the ending of legal restrictions "should not be taken as an invitation by everybody simply to have a great jubilee and freedom from any kind of caution or restraint".
"It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over," he continued. The Prime Minister added that the Government would look to review whether to continue this same guidance or amend it in September.
"This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 to life as it was before Covid."
Ministers have predicted that new Covid cases could total more than 100,000 a day within weeks, while scientific advisors say they expect at least 1,000 daily hospital admissions.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that the current wave of cases would mean more hospital admissions and deaths, but insisted the nation had arrived at a stage in the pandemic "when there is no easy answer and no obvious date for unlocking".
Staggered return to work
Lockdown rules banner – WFH
Employers have been told not to instruct their workers to return to the office en masse next week, despite the Government lifting the official work from home order.
Businesses are instead being asked to stagger office returns throughout the summer, with Mr Johnson stressing that he expects a "gradual" transition back to the working practices seen before the pandemic.
Mr Johnson told the Downing Street press conference that while the guidance would go, ministers did not expect "the whole country to return to their desk as one from Monday".
It comes just days after Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, highlighted benefits of working in the office for younger people "especially", telling The Telegraph that it offered them the opportunity to "learn from others more directly".
Six guidance notes for different sectors of the economy were due to be published on July 13, advising businesses of the health and safety requirements still expected of them.
This includes improving ventilation and ensuring sick workers stay at home, although Government documents warned on July 12 this could be strengthened in September if it proves inadequate.
But officials at the Department for Business failed to release new documents as planned, amid mounting concern from bosses who fear the guidance is unclear and could leave them open to legal challenges if there is a Covid outbreak at work.
Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said: “There has been real frustration about the mixed messages that they have been receiving from the Government, and we are calling for a focus on rebuilding trust and confidence through clear and unambiguous guidance.”
While Mr Johnson has repeatedly stated his belief that city centres will bounce back from the pandemic, his enthusiasm for a swift return has been dampened by warnings from his scientific advisers about the impact on transmission.
Speaking beforehand, Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said: "Over the next four to six weeks that needs to be very cautiously implemented by businesses to keep transmission down.
"If you are able to do your business effectively from home then… we should try our best to do that."
Masks expected to be worn
Lockdown rules banner – Masks
The expectations around the use of face masks in public will remain largely unchanged, even though the legal requirement will end on Monday – the public will just have to use their "common sense".
Mr Johnson said the Government would continue to recommend they be worn in enclosed and crowded spaces, on buses and trains, and indoors where there is poor ventilation.
"We expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet such as on public transport," he added.
They will not be required in settings such as nightclubs, despite these being deemed high-risk, because these venues will be encouraged to roll out other mitigations such as Covid-status certification.
It marks a notable cooling of Mr Johnson’s language last week, when he suggested that mask wearing would "depend on the circumstances".
Since then, a number of ministers have also given conflicting statements on whether they would continue to wear masks, while Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has said he is relaxed about train companies imposing the requirement as a condition of carriage.
Mr Shapps has backed the decision by Transport for London to require passengers to carry on wearing masks.
"Whilst we are going from this being a legal requirement to guidelines, we do expect individual carriers to make sure they are putting in place whatever is appropriate for their network," he told Sky News on July 14.
"The airlines have already said that you will need to carry on wearing masks on those. It is very much in line with what we expected – indeed wanted – to happen."
It comes as almost three-quarters of Britons are likely to continue wearing face coverings in shops and while using public transport even when they are no longer compulsory, according to a new poll.
A survey by Ipsos Mori found a majority are also likely to wear them on planes (64 per cent), in theatres and cinemas (60 per cent), in their place of work (59 per cent) and in pubs and restaurants (55 per cent).
Meanwhile, it emerged on Monday that mask-wearing will become optional for MPs in the Commons from next week but Parliamentary staff will still be obligated to wear one.
A spokesman for Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said that Parliament was unable to mandate masks for MPs because it had no "employment or contractual relationship" with them.
Ministers and civil servants at three government departments are able to avoid self-isolation after being quietly invited to join a special pilot scheme that allows them to take daily tests and return to work, The Telegraph can disclose.
Limit social contacts
Lockdown rules banner – social distancing
People should continue to limit their contacts while Covid cases continue to surge, despite the requirement to socially distance being lifted on July 19.
While the one-metre plus rule and all legal caps on gatherings will fall away, the Government is continuing to ask members of the public to continue "minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts".
According to the guidance released on Monday, the public should seek to limit the "close contact you have with those you do not usually live with, and increase close contact gradually".
The document says that people should "meet outdoors where possible", adding: "It’s always worth considering if you can meet outdoors or, if you’re indoors, thinking about how you can improve ventilation by letting fresh air in."
It suggests that, for the time being, people should cut down on catching up with friends at the pub or at other social gatherings until case rates begin to fall later this summer.
Although the guidance is not legally-binding, it is likely to come as a frustration to many in the run up to the height of summer, when people are more likely to have more contacts than at many other periods of the year.
Lockdown rules banner – Isolation
The clinically extremely vulnerable will be encouraged to meet people outdoors and avoid those who are not fully vaccinated.
Previous rules on shielding were lifted in March, with the clinically extremely vulnerable told that "close contact with friends and family will be a personal choice" and that "it is important that you continue to be cautious when meeting others".
According to updated guidance released on Monday, people in this category will be asked to follow the same rules as everyone else but to consider additional precautions, such as not meeting people they do not usually come into contact with or who have not been vaccinated.
It goes on to advise that vulnerable people consider the risks of meeting in crowded and indoor spaces with poor ventilation, as well as in areas where there is high levels of community transmission.
Meeting outdoors is also encouraged, as is continuing social distancing if "that feels right for you and your friends" and the request for friends and family to take a lateral flow test before visiting.
On visiting supermarkets and other shops, it says that the extremely clinically may still want to visit "at quieter times of the day".
For those concerned about returning to work, the document states that employers have a legal duty to protect their health and safety and that companies should explain the measures they have put in place to "keep you safe at work".
For those concerned about their workplace, it encourages them to speak to their workplace union, the Health and Safety Executive or their local authority, adding that they have the ability to take action to stop "certain work practices".
Nightclubs and large events will be asked to use Covid-status certification when they reopen for the first time since March last year, despite Mr Johnson shelving plans for mandatory vaccine passports.
Instead of mask-wearing and social distancing requirements, the Government is recommending that these venues and other large events use Covid-status certification as a basis of entry to venues deemed "high risk".
The Prime Minister added that businesses which needed to should "make use" of the NHS Covid app – to allow people to show proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity, as "a means of entry".
Mr Johnson has had to resurrect the policy in the hope that it will prevent nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues from turbocharging the third Covid wave.
The plans come after a recent fall in take-up of the vaccine among young adults knocked the herd immunity strategy off course.
Read more: Fall in vaccine uptake means passport policy designed as a threat has become a reality
Third vs second wave (auto-updates)
Guidance published on July 12 stated that those expected to use the Covid status are large crowded settings where people are likely to be in close proximity to others outside their household.
While this is not compulsory, it went on to warn that if "sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection, the Government will consider mandating the NHS Covid Pass in certain venues at a later date".
They should not be used for essential services, such as GPs or supermarkets, it said.
To gain entry to venues choosing to go down the certification route, customers must be able to show proof of having been fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior, evidence of a negative lateral flow test in the past two days, or a positive PCR test in the past six months to confirm a level of immunity to Covid-19.
They will be able to upload their Covid-status certification on the NHS app, which is separate to the NHS Test and Trace app. Visitors will also be able to show text or email confirmation of test results.