England prepares to scrap mandatory rules for wearing masks and social distancing

Source: PA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that all legal restrictions related to the coronavirus will end at «step 4» of the government’s plan to ease England’s lockdown, which is expected on July 19.

Johnson said the government would not make it a legal requirement for people to wear masks in certain places, but he is asking the public to make a personal judgment about when it is appropriate to use masks.

We will change the basic tools we used to control human behavior. We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.

This in particular has been heavily criticized; With the Royal College of Nursing saying «the government will regret the day it sent the wrong signal for political good», opposition leader Keir Starmer called the announcement «reckless».

It will be decided next Monday July 12th whether Step 4 continues on July 19th, depending on the latest data. Under Step 4 England’s plan:

  • There will be no restrictions on social contact, which means the end of orders such as the «rule of six» and restrictions on guests at weddings and mourners at funerals.
  • Legal requirements for wearing face coverings will be lifted, although the guidelines will suggest people choose to do so in «closed and crowded spaces».
  • All remaining businesses will be able to reopen, including nightclubs, while the maximum capacity will be raised and bars and restaurants will no longer be restricted to table service.
  • The British government no longer requires people to work from home.
  • The «one meter plus» rule on social distancing will be lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border, where directives will remain to prevent passengers from red and amber list countries from mixing with other travelers.
  • The limit on visitors to named nursing homes will be lifted but infection control measures will remain in place.
  • There will be no mandatory use of a Covid status certificate – so-called local ‘vaccine passports’ – although companies will be able to use the system voluntarily.
  • The gap between vaccine doses for those under 40 will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, meaning all adults will have the opportunity to be vaccinated twice by mid-September.
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Asked about masks, England’s chief marketing officer, Chris Whitty, said there were three scenarios in which a face mask would still be worn: when it was crowded indoors, when the authority required it, and if someone else was uncomfortable with it not wearing a mask.

Johnson said this evening that the pandemic is «not over yet» and will not be over by July 19, with 50,000 cases detected a day by that date.

He said at a press conference in Downing Street: «We are seeing a rise in hospitalizations and we have to unfortunately fix ourselves with more deaths from Covid.

In these circumstances we must make a careful and balanced decision. And there’s only one reason we’d consider going to step four in circumstances where we’d normally be more than that, and that’s because the vaccine rollout continues to be effective.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said at the press conference that vaccines had «weakened» the link between Covid infection and hospitalization and mortality, but only weakened rather than completely broken.

Johnson said expectations remain that by July 19 every adult in the UK will have had an offer of the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and two-thirds of them will have had a second dose.

The prime minister said it’s an issue «now or next year» regarding a full reopening:

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«And we have to be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our community in the next few weeks, when we’re going to help by the summer, and by the school holidays, we have to ask ourselves ‘When will we be able to get back to normal?'»

«And for those who say we should be late again – the alternative is to open up in the winter when the virus has an advantage, or not at all this year.»

With reports from the Press Association.

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