The fourth and final stage of the UK’s Government’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown has already been delayed from June 21, with a new date of July 19 now in place for the relaxation of the majority of the remaining lockdown rules.
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As BBC News reports, the use of face masks in public places is set to be downgraded from mandatory to voluntary in England, while the 1m-plus social distancing rule and QR code sign-ins at restaurants, pubs and venues are among the measures expected to be scrapped from July 19.
The final decision on lockdown easing is set to be made by Johnson on July 12 and will hinge on the government’s “four tests” – the vaccination rollout, vaccine effectiveness, hospital admissions and new virus variants – being met, as well as a review of the latest data.
Coronavirus cases are expected to rise with the easing of restrictions, but, the government says, “the link to hospitalisations and deaths has been weakened due to the vaccination programme”.
“Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our roadmap. Today we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach step 4,” Johnson said in a statement issued this morning.
“But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks. As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from COVID and exercise judgement when going about our lives.”
Responding to the prospect of face masks becoming voluntary, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the British Medical Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it “makes no sense” to stop wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces while cases of the Delta variant remain on the rise.
“We know that face masks are proven to reduce spread of this infection,” he said. “[I] can’t understand why – at a time where there are ‘exceptional high levels of cases’ – we would knowingly want people to become infected.
“As for ‘personal choice’ – remember that the public face masks do not protect the wearer predominantly; they protect people around you.”
The final stage of lockdown easing could also see nightclubs reopen and the lifting of capacity limits for music venues, theatres and cinemas.
The UK live music industry body LIVE said that they “welcomed the positive noises coming from government around reopening” in regards to today’s announcement.
“As an industry that has been closed since the start of the pandemic, we are thrilled at the prospect of welcoming live music fans back through our doors,” Greg Parmley, LIVE CEO said.
“But the last year has taught us that nothing can be taken for granted. If the Government wants the industry to bounce back and help the economy recover, they need to provide a government-backed insurance scheme to give organisers the confidence and security they still desperately need.”