Sajid Javid Confirms Covid Restrictions To End On 19 July But Admits They Could Come Back
Sajid Javid has confirmed England will move onto step 4 of the government's roadmap out of lockdown from 19 July
The government has confirmed the end to all legal coronavirus restrictions from next Monday, but will urge large events to check people’s Covid status.
Sajid Javid said England will move onto the fourth and final step of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown on 19 July.
The health secretary said the four tests the government set out for moving along the roadmap have been met, calling it a “major milestone”.
However he did admit measures could come back, saying if the "risk matrix changes" due to a new variant then the government "will not hesitate to take the appropriate action".
Today's announcement means the removal of social distancing and social contact restrictions a week today, and remaining businesses such as nightclubs, which have been shut during the pandemic, will now be able to reopen.
But there has been criticism from scientific advisors and medical experts of the plan to strip away the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the disease, amid continuing rising cases.
For more than 10 days in a row there have been over 25,000 new infections recorded, and Javid has suggested the UK will see 100,000 cases every day later this summer, amid warnings this will put significant pressure on the health service.
Hospital admissions with Covid are above 3,000 for the past week, an increase of 56% from the previous seven days. Cancer surgeries have been cancelled at one NHS Trust, while others have issued “black alerts” due to the risk of being overwhelmed by an influx of patients.
In a statement to the Commons this afternoon, however, Javid said: "We do not believe that infection rates will place unsustainable pressure on the NHS."
He said the vaccine programme had been rolled out at a "phenomenal pace", adding: "We've given more doses per capita than any other large nation and, as a result, around nine in ten adults in the UK now have Covid-19 antibodies."
The Cabinet minister told MPs it was the "right time to get our nation closer to normal life".
"To those who say 'why take this step now' I say 'if not now, when?'," he added.
"There will never be a perfect time to take this step because we simply cannot eradicate this virus, whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away."
But he was asked by a former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, if the data "deteriorates beyond what is currently envisaged he will not hesitate to take decisive action" and reintroduce Covid restrictions.
Javid said he was "very happy to give that assurance", in a dramatic deviation from previous claims by the government that the removal of restrictions would be "irreversible".
"He’s right to point out there is still uncertainty for us, for countries across the world, in dealing with this pandemic," Javid continued.
"I’m very pleased to assure him if that risk matrix changes, for example with variants of concern, we we will not hesitate to take the appropriate action."
Although legal rules are ending, “clear and cautious guidance will remain in place”, which includes an expectation and recommendation that people continue to wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.
While government is no longer instructing people to work from home, they are calling for a gradual return to the workplace over the summer for those that can, rather than suggesting people return en masse.
People will be told they should still try to meet people outside where possible, while businesses and large events will be encouraged to use Covid certification in high risk settings, such as bars and nightclubs.
The government has previously suggested such a system, referred to as “vaccine passports”, would not need to be used domestically.
But they are now encouraging venues to confirm whether someone has been double-jabbed, has antibodies against coronavirus, or has very recently tested negative for it, before entering.
The government has however admitted that nothing could be done if a nightclub decided to re-open next week without a certification system, and went back to being at full capacity with no social distancing and no requirement to wear a mask.
They said they will be speaking to the sector in the coming days about what the benefit is to roll out such a system, after the success of a series of pilot events where this was implemented.
Downing Street confirmed that beyond the existing support already in places for businesses, there are no plans to introduce additional support going forward to help bring in certification.
There will also be updated guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable, and Boris Johnson will confirm a review point which will take place in September.
The PM is due to confirm the step four plans at a televised press conference later this afternoon, and will say “there is no perfect time to relax these restrictions”, but point out the four-week delay to this step has allowed for an additional seven million vaccination doses to be administered.
Moving to step four on 19 July also allows the relaxation to coincide with the end of schools’ summer term when transmission is expected to be lower.
Javid said “there is no risk-free way forward and while opening up is not without risk, ongoing restrictions are not without cost”, adding: "Case numbers are going up, we expect them to continue going up.
“But the most important difference today versus the last wave is the vaccination, that wall of defence that our country has built which has meant that hospitalisations although they are rising as case numbers rise, they're rising at a lot slower rate than before."
In response Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused him of taking a “high risk, indeed fatalistic, approach”.
He said: "Instead of caution he is putting his foot down the on the accelerator while throwing the seat belt off.
"He admits that could mean 100,000 infections a day. That means potentially thousands suffering debilitating long Covid.
“It means as more cases arise potentially more escape and the threat of new more transmissible variant emerging."
Although legal restrictions will end testing, contact tracing and self-isolation will remain in place, and the current traffic light border policy will continue.
Johnson will warn the pandemic is not over, and with cases still rising modelling suggests hospitalisations, serious illness and deaths form Covid 19 will continue, albeit at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme.
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