Coronavirus restrictions will be lifted when England moves to “step four” of its lockdown reopening roadmap next Monday 19 July, meaning the end of social distancing restrictions and limits on household mixing in restaurants and pubs. Health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the change in the House of Commons today, 12 July.
Prime minister Boris Johnson later gave a press conference announcing the change, urging that “this pandemic is not over.” His version of “cautious but irreversible” included recommending face masks in crowded areas and “with people you don’t normally meet,” which would include restaurants and pubs when not seated, as has previously been required in law. Professor Chris Whitty then laid out how both the four-week delay to this step in the roadmap, and the caution at step four, are subjects of overwhelming consensus in the medical and scientific community.
Earlier, Javid said that the government’s decision to press ahead with what is effectively “full reopening” and the complete end of coronavirus restrictions in England was because all four of the tests drawn up by the government are being met.
The first is that the vaccination programme is succeeding. Javid said more than 80 million doses had now been administered, and around nine in 10 adults in the U.K. had COVID-19 antibodies, either from vaccination or prior infection.
Test two is the impact case numbers have on hospital admissions. “The vaccination programme has severely weakened the link between cases and hospitalisations,” Javid said.
The third test relates to case numbers themselves, which are rising. Javid said they were rising because of the Delta variant, and could reach 100,000 a day in the summer. But evidence suggests that infection rates will not put too much pressure on the NHS.
The fourth test relates to the threat posed by new variants about which he said “border controls and genomic sequencing” offered protection against this threat.
The health secretary claimed that reopening next Monday offered the “best possible chance of a return to normal life” and that it represented the “most responsible decision we can take.” Javid also says that the government has a plan to ensure that step four is safe. Most notably for restaurants and pubs, it includes the “recommendation” to continue wearing masks in indoor settings. Presently, staff are legally required to wear masks, while diners and drinkers must wear them whenever they are not seated at a table.
The plan, which will be published today, 12 July, will also:
- Involve a review of unlocking and reopening in September.
- Urge people to return to work (when they’re currently able to work from home) gradually.
- Encourage businesses and large events to use Covid-certification in high-risk situations.
- Offer guidance for the extremely clinically vulnerable.
More soon on what this means for restaurants and pubs.