Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that the government will likely lift most remaining Covid restrictions in England on July 19 and that he would likely leave it up to people to decide whether to keep wearing masks in subways, buses, and other confined spaces.
Mr. Johnson detailed plans for lifting the restrictions and loosening some travel rules, stressing that a final decision on ending most pandemic limits would be made on July 12.
The announcement was met with both hope and trepidation. Although emerging variants have caused the number of infections in the country to rise in recent weeks, so far that has yet to be followed by a commensurate rise in hospital admissions or deaths.
“There’s only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to Step 4 in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout,” Mr. Johnson said. He also warned people to brace for more deaths from Covid.
Ahead of his address, Mr. Johnson had said people in the country had to “learn to live with this virus.”
Mr. Johnson said beginning the July 19, the government will “move away from legal restriction and allow people to make their own decisions on how to manage the virus.”Working from home guidance will no longer be in place.
The full reopening had been scheduled to take place last month, but was delayed because of worries over the more contagious Delta variant. The number of infections in the country has risen in recent weeks — primarily among younger people, who have only recently become eligible for vaccination. But 86 percent of adults in England have received at least one vaccine dose, among the highest rates in the world.
Organizers of nightlife and live events, which have largely fallen silent during the pandemic, had lobbied against further delays. Though many venues remain closed, Wembley Stadium will host the semifinals and finals of the European Championship soccer tournament in the coming days, with as many as 60,000 people allowed to attend if they show proof of vaccination or a negative virus test.
There are concerns, however, that the large gatherings will lead to further outbreaks. More than 2,000 people in Scotland tested positive for the virus last week after watching a Euro 2020 game at a stadium, fan zone or pub, according to National Health Scotland — nearly two-thirds of which were linked to a Euro 2020 game in London.
With England’s full reopening, restaurants and pubs will be able to serve more patrons, and limits on gatherings like weddings will be removed.
Britain reported over 24,000 new daily cases on Sunday, the highest number since early February, though the rates of hospitalizations and deaths remain low. And medical experts have urged officials to maintain some regulations, including mandatory face coverings and guidance on social distancing.
“It’s not a binary decision of all or nothing,” said Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association Council, adding that such measures would minimize the impact of rising infections.
England has accelerated efforts to vaccine younger people in recent weeks, and officials said they were working on a program to offer booster shots to people over 50 and other vulnerable people this coming winter.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are working on a separate, though similar timelines to also fully reopen the economy in their nations.