The government has declared that the easing of lockdown restrictions will go ahead on July 19 – but MPs are still encouraging 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 in less than a week, 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 – despite not making it legally mandatory.

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.

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".

But in more positive news for the vaccine programme, over two-thirds of adults in the UK are now estimated to have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine as of July 16.

The Prime Minister had vowed to hit the two-thirds target by Freedom Day on July 19, and government data shows over 35 million second doses have been administered across the UK, so the target has been reached early. 

It comes as ministers were facing backlash from the travel industry after the Balearic Islands were placed back on the amber list only a fortnight after going green, throwing plans for a summer getaway for thousands of young people into disarray.

While Britons who have been jabbed with Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine face a month-long wait to be allowed to travel to nearly half of Europe, it has emerged.

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 published on July 14, after a delay, 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.

Bosses have been told to set up mental health hotlines for anxious staff, as part of the official guidance from Whitehall.

Workers may be suffering from mental health issues and will need "extra consideration" from their employers after over a year spent working remotely or on the furlough scheme, the Department for Business said in eagerly-anticipated documents.

The guidance also encourages the wearing of masks in offices, use of Perspex screens to separate desks, and creating “fixed teams” so staff limit the number of people they come into contact with.  

Business groups warned that the advice is confusing. It is feared some companies may be put off from bringing staff back due to concerns over possible lawsuits if they make a mistake, and trade unions have vowed to sue businesses if they force staff back against their will.

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 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."

Sports fans will also be still be required to wear a face mask at sporting events, as well as show a Covid passport, from July 19.

Under plans being hurriedly put in place, the Government will this week issue guidance to sports ahead of their return to full capacity, after Boris Johnson revealed venues with large crowds would be urged to adopt Covid certification – proof of full vaccination or evidence of a negative test – “as a matter of social responsibility”.

The use of Covid passports and masks – an exception could be made for outdoor events – will not be mandatory, but it is unthinkable sports will ignore guidance, given their duty of care to those attending.

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.

Clinically vulnerable

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".

Covid passports

Restaurants, pubs and bars are being urged to consider using Covid passports, under new government guidance for businesses on how to operate once lockdown restrictions end on July 19.

The official advice said hospitality firms will be encouraged to consider asking customers to show Covid passports to enter their premises.

The Government was accused of widening the net of companies encouraged to use domestic Covid passports after Boris Johnson signalled on Monday that they would be recommended for nightclubs and venues with "large crowds".

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.