health

Sajid Javid expected to confirm 19 July as end of lockdown easing in England


Sajid Javid is set to announce on Monday that England will wait another three weeks until the final easing of Covid restrictions.

In a statement to the Commons, the new health secretary is expected to confirm that step 4 of lockdown easing will take place on Monday 19 July – in line with the four-week delay from the original target, 21 June – and not Monday 5 July.

Boris Johnson floated the prospect of 5 July when he announced that the rise of the Delta variant meant restrictions would probably remain in place for an extra month, but he never pretended it was a likely option, and at the time his decision to raise this as a possibility was seen as an olive branch to anti-lockdown Tory MPs.

On Sunday, aides claimed that the final decision had not yet been taken, but ministers have repeatedly said that the lifting of remaining restrictions on 5 July is “unlikely and government sources were not indicating that this had changed. The government’s scientific advisers are also understood to strongly favour 19 July.

Johnson said earlier this month that waiting until 19 July would allow two-thirds of adults in the UK to be fully vaccinated. Figures published on Sunday afternoon showed that 61.6% of adults have now had two doses of vaccine.

The update also showed that another 14,876 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the UK. That is an increase of 5,592 on the total for the previous Sunday, and the total number of new cases over the past seven days is up 59% on the total for the previous week.

The UK has also recorded 11 move Covid deaths. That is almost double the total for the previous Sunday (six), and the total number of deaths over the past week is now up 72% on the total for the previous week – albeit from a low base.

In an interview with the Andrew Marr Show, Sir Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), has said that it would be a mistake for the government to lift all remaining restrictions on 5 July.

Asked if he would be “wise” for the government to bring forward the date for final lockdown easing from 19 July, Horby replied: “No, I wouldn’t do that.

“I think it was a very sensible move to put it back by four weeks and I don’t think we should rush into anything. We really want to make sure that we can release all restrictions and not have to backtrack at all.”

The government has said that it hopes to be able to lift all remaining legal restrictions on social contact in England when it reaches step 4 of the roadmap. This would mean: being able to meet up indoors in large groups (without being bound by the six people or two households limit); not having to wear face coverings in shops or on public transport; pubs not being limited to table service; and nightclubs being allowed to open.

But the roadmap only said the government hoped to be able to remove all remaining restrictions at step 4, and No 10 has refused to commit every single one of them going. Ministers also believe that people are likely to carry on with some social distancing measures, like wearing face coverings, on a voluntary basis.



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