BORIS Johnson warned tonight that “contingency measures” might need to stay in place over the winter if Covid cases spiral again.
And Professor Chris Whitty warned of a “very difficult” winter ahead as a double whammy of Covid and flu hits hospitals.
After months of Covid rules, the PM confirmed tonight he will strip back lockdown to the bare bones from July 19.
He announced a bonfire of Covid restrictions – sweeping away social distancing, mandatory masks and orders to work from home.
All other legal limits will be ripped up on Freedom Day for a summer of fun after a gruelling year and a half of draconian measures.
However, the PM pointedly could not rule out a return to some measures in future.
He told the Downing Street press conference tonight: “We will continue to monitor the data, and retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter.
“We will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance, and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring.”
And when grilled by reporters, he refused to rule it out completely.
He replied: “If we do find another variant that doesn’t respond to the vaccines, if heaven forbid some really awful new bug should appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public.
“But on balance, given the massive success of the vaccine rollout, given the fact that this is a propitious moment, a good moment to do it given the coming summer holidays, the natural firebreak we have there, and given the difficulty of then imagining us opening up in the context of the colder autumn/winter months, I think this is a balanced and cautious approach.”
Some mitigations will continue into the months to come.
Brits won’t have to wear masks by law, but people will still be encouraged to on crowded places, or in NHS settings like hospitals.
A huge row broke out as Labour and some scientists demanded they stay in place for longer – with even Professor Whitty saying he backed keeping them for now.
Tough travel rules will continue too, but the double jabbed will get more freedoms in weeks.
In a showering of freedoms on July 19, the PM confirmed tonight:
- Hefty fines for refusing to wear a mask indoors will be dropped as face mask laws binned – but coverings will still be recommended for crowded spaces
- All legal limits restricting social contact will be torn up, such as the rule of six or rule of 30 outside
- Work from home guidance will be dropped in favour of firms’ discretion
- Pub rules will be binned – with table service scrapped and social distancing ending
- Strict caps on care home visitors will be ditched – but PPE will stay
- ALL adults will now get their second jab after eight weeks, down from 12
- The one metre plus social distancing rule will be binned – except for ports and for people who have Covid
- It means festivals and full stadiums will finally be able to make a return after lifting all limits on mass events
- Covid certificates will be binned – but individual places can still demand them if they want
- Ministers will announce school bubble rules and holiday quarantine updates later this week
- Doubled jabbed Brits will soon escape isolation rules if they are in contact with a positive case
A final decision on whether to press ahead with lockdown lifting in two weeks will be made on July 12, but the PM said he expects to go ahead with it as planned.
He is confident Britain’s well-oiled vaccine rollout will allow ministers to swap tough laws with the public’s “individual judgement”.
Today he unveiled his post-lockdown blueprint to give anxious businesses time to prepare for the grand reopening later this month.
But he warned that “the pandemic is far from over” and “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid”.
Top doc Patrick Vallance warned that “hospitalisations are rising and rising quite steeply in some places, and we would expect them to continue…
“Vaccines have weakened the link between cases and hospitalisation, but it’s a weakened link, not a completely broken one.”
Already Tory MPs were starting to grumble about the idea of rules being brought back in for winter.
Tory MP Mark Harper asked the Health Secretary to see “contingency measures in place for winter” so they can be scrutinised, saying any guidance would be another huge blow for cash-strapped businesses.
Health Sec Sajid Javid said extra powers were necessary for local authorities in case of “local breakouts” but added “There’s no intention at this point that these powers are used, but we believe that it is necessary to have the powers in place.”
Sir Desmond Swayne added: “We will never again sacrifice, free enterprise, freedom of association, and indeed freedom of worship, in order to manage hospital admissions, ever again, will we?”