What has the government announced?
It has revealed what will happen from 19 July, if the decision is made to move to phase 4 of the Covid unlocking process. In brief, more or less every legal restriction will be lifted, all businesses will open, and mitigation measures such as mask wearing and social distancing will be left to people’s personal responsibility. The basis for the plan is that mass vaccination has sufficiently weakened the link between infection rates and severe illness and death so the country can “find a way new way of living with the virus”, according to No 10.
Will this definitely happen?
Almost certainly yes, but it has not been confirmed. The final decision will be announced a week before, next Monday, if ministers and their scientific advisers deem the necessary tests have been met.
What restrictions will be scrapped?
More or less everything. What Downing Street calls the legalistic, “top-down edicts” approach of telling people what to do will be replaced by advice for the public to “manage risk to protect themselves and others”. The remaining businesses still to reopen such as nightclubs will be able to do so; there will no longer be attendance caps at events such as weddings; there will be no capacity limits for cinemas, theatres and live concerts; table service will not be mandatory in pubs and cafes; the advice to work from home will end.
What will stay in place?
A handful of regulations. People will still have to self-isolate if they test positive or are found to have come into close contact with someone who did – although this is expected to be lifted in future for people who have been double vaccinated. A “proportionate” test, trace and isolate regime will stay in place. And while visitor limits for care homes will go, some “infection control measures” such as the use of personal protective equipment will stay in place. Also, existing powers for local public health teams to respond to particular crises will remain.
What about Covid status certificates?
A parallel review into this idea – asking people to show their vaccination status or proof of a negative Covid test to gain entry to some crowded venues – has decided not to go ahead with them as a government scheme. However, businesses will be able to ask for these as a condition of entry if they wish, and the NHS app will still allow people to show this.
The document outlining the full plans noted that certificates could be used to help keep businesses open “if the country is facing a difficult situation in autumn or winter”.
What about mask use?
This is a potentially confusing area. It will be entirely voluntary, although people will be asked to be mindful of mitigating infection risks for both themselves and others when in crowded spaces with strangers, such as public transport. However, airlines, train companies and the like will be able to require mask use as a condition of travel, even if it is not entirely clear how they will be able to enforce this. Masks will be recommended in health and care settings, but not mandatory.
And social distancing?
The current 1-metre-plus rule for distancing will go entirely, although it will remain as guidance for two areas – those who are self-isolating, and people arriving at international airports and ports.
Where does this leave clinically vulnerable people or those not yet vaccinated?
Essentially, at the mercy of others’ goodwill, or having to avoid crowded spaces. Downing Street says people will have to “use their personal judgment based on their individual circumstances”, with possible ideas for vulnerable people to only travel on public transport at quieter times of the day. Similarly, there will be no specific protection for clinically vulnerable people who feel they cannot return to their workplace if others there are not wearing masks or socially distancing.
Any change with vaccinations?
Yes – as part of the process of speeding up the double-vaccination programme, the gap between which people must wait for their second injection has been reduced from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
What about travel?
The announcement has nothing on the much-touted plan to allow people who have received two vaccinations to return from amber-list countries without having to self-isolate. An announcement on this is expected from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, later this week.
Similarly, an announcement expected to change the system of “bubbles” for self-isolation in schools will come from Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, on Tuesday. But speaking in the Commons, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said the policy would end from 19 July.
Will the situation be the same UK-wide?
While No 10 says it is in talks with devolved nations, this is not confirmed. For example, Scotland could maintain mask rules for transport and shops when it lifts other restrictions, on 9 August – meaning passengers on trains going between England and Scotland may have to don a mask mid-trip.
Does Boris Johnson have the backing of his scientific advisers?
Yes, in the sense that at a No 10 press conference, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government chief scientific adviser, and Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, did not dispute the plan. But Whitty did urge caution, saying: “We are in the face of an increasing epidemic at the moment and therefore we need to behave accordingly in terms of trying to limit transmission.”