Updated 1 hour ago
THE USE OF domestic vaccine passports and face masks will be encouraged as ministers set out a cautious approach to England’s “Freedom Day” on July 19 in response to soaring coronavirus cases.
Experts fear there could be 200 deaths a day as cases surge, despite the protection offered by the vaccination campaign.
Although most legal restrictions will largely be lifted, hopes of a complete return to normality have been dashed by the spread of the Delta variant.
Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over.
“This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family.
“We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday 19 July to life as it was before Covid.
“We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”
Johnson warned that 19 July “should not be taken as an invitation by everybody simply to have a great jubilee and freedom from any kind of caution or restraint”.
He said he still hoped the road map was “irreversible” but “in order to have that, it has also got to be a cautious approach”.
Although the British government order to work from home where possible will lift from Monday, ministers encouraged firms to implement a gradual return to the workplace.
Nightclubs, which will be able to reopen on 19 July after being shut since the first lockdown in March 2020, and other venues with crowds should use vaccine passports for entry “as a matter of social responsibility”, Johnson said.
The Covid Pass, on the NHS app, shows proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity having recovered from coronavirus.
Although its use will be voluntary at first, if cases continue to rise the Government could consider making it mandatory in certain venues in future.
Johnson acknowledged that the current wave of cases would mean more hospital admissions and deaths.
But he said: “We’ve come to a stage in the pandemic when there is no easy answer and no obvious date for unlocking.”
Ministers concluded that the four tests set for unlocking, the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence that vaccines are causing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge in admissions, and that no new variants of concern throw progress off track, are being met, allowing Step 4 of the road map to proceed as planned.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said experts were “cautious” in interpreting the data around the risk to the NHS.
“We cannot be quite as confident on this test as the others,” he said.
“But at this point, modelling data and other data would imply that if we go slowly with the next stage of the road map, the expectation is this will not reach the point where it is putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Prof Whitty said there was “no clear evidence” that a delay to reopening now would make a difference but “what is going to make a difference is going slowly”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the Government’s approach was “about balancing the harms that are caused by Covid with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring”.
British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that 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?’
There will never be a perfect time to take this step because we simply cannot eradicate this virus.
Javid said the British Government’s approach was “about balancing the harms that are caused by Covid with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring”.
This is despite official acknowledgement that there could be 100,000 new cases a day in the summer.
“Cases are rising, propelled by the new, more transmissible, Delta variant,” Javid said.
No news is bad news
Support The Journal
Your contributions will help us continue
to deliver the stories that are important to you
“The average number of daily cases is over 26,000 and this has doubled over the past 11 days.
“And sadly the case numbers will get a lot worse before they get better – we could reach 100,000 cases a day later in the summer.”
Source: PA Images
Hospital admissions will also rise further but they are “far lower than they were at this point during the previous wave” and the vaccines had “severely weakened” the link between people catching coronavirus and ending up developing serious illness and possibly dying.
The UK Government has previously said that from Step 4 all coronavirus restrictions on gatherings will be removed, masks will no longer be legally required, social distancing measures will be scrapped and the order to work from home will be lifted.
But while the legal restrictions are going, guidance will make clear that people and firms are expected to continue to take action to limit the spread of the virus.
This includes the widespread use of Covid status certification, the so-called vaccine passports allowing people to show whether they are double-jabbed, have a negative test result or have natural immunity after recovering from Covid-19.
Other “large events” will also be encouraged to use vaccine passports, with customers able to prove their status using the NHS app.
A series of guidance documents will set out what is expected of firms as the UK Government shifts responsibility from the state to companies and citizens.
This includes new guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable, those most at risk from coronavirus.
Javid said a review would be carried out in September “to assess our preparedness for autumn and winter”.