Covid: Most rules set to end in England, says PM

Face masks will no longer be legally required and distancing rules will be scrapped at the final stage of England’s Covid lockdown roadmap, Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The rule of six inside private homes will be removed and work-from-home guidance abolished as 16 months of on-off restrictions on daily life end.

The PM said he expected the final step would go ahead as planned on 19 July.

This will be confirmed on 12 July after a review of the latest data.

Further updates on school bubbles, travel and self-isolation will follow in the coming days, Mr Johnson told a Downing Street news conference.

He said that even after the removal of the legal requirement to wear a face covering, he would continue to wear one himself in crowded places “as a courtesy”.

“We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid.”

‘If not now, when?’

Mr Johnson said the ability to end a vast majority of legal restrictions in England was thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout.

But he warned cases were predicted to rise to 50,000 a day later this month and that “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid”.

The prime minister explained: “If we don’t go ahead now when we’ve clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link… when would we go ahead?”

He added: “We run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge, has an advantage, in the cold months, or again putting everything off to next year.”

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Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules.

The Scottish government has said it may continue to require masks in certain settings even after 9 August, when it is hoped the final curbs will end.

Ahead of a review on 15 July in Wales, ministers said people would need to learn to live with Covid. Rules in Northern Ireland have just eased, with another review due on 8 July.

The final stage of England’s roadmap, step four, was delayed last month to no earlier than 19 July amid surging virus cases linked to the Delta variant.

Mr Johnson said step four should proceed on that date, subject to the 12 July review.

Announcing what the next stage of the pandemic will look like in England, he confirmed:

  • an end to limits on attendance at weddings and funerals
  • table service rules at bars and restaurants and venue check-in requirements will be scrapped
  • limits on named care home visitors will be lifted
  • council powers to enforce rules will expire
  • large-scale events will not legally require certification

It means nightclubs will reopen for the first time since the pandemic began, while ordering at the bar will return in a boost to the hospitality industry.

Social distancing requirements, including the 1m-plus rule, have prevented many venues from operating at full capacity during the pandemic.

Face coverings are currently required, for those without an exemption, on public transport and in shops as part of regulations backed by law.

Speaking alongside the Mr Johnson, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty outlined the three scenarios where he would continue to wear a face covering in the context of rising case numbers.

“The first is any situation which is indoors, crowded, or indoors with close proximity with other people… the second situation I’d do it is if I was required to by any competent authority… and the third reason is if someone else was uncomfortable if I did not wear a mask,” he said.

On the vaccine roll out, Mr Johnson said the gap between first and second vaccine jabs for the under-40s will be shortened from 12 weeks to eight.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will announce more details on Tuesday about how schools will manage isolation in future, the prime minister added.

But he confirmed pupils will no longer be sent home en masse within so-called school bubbles.

A further 27,334 cases were reported across the UK on Monday, alongside another nine deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

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