All legal coronavirus restrictions – including mask-wearing, social distancing and nightclub closures – will end at step four of the UK Government’s plan to ease England’s lockdown, which is expected to be on July 19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.
Speaking at Downing Street, Johnson said the legal requirement to wear face coverings will be lifted, although guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in “enclosed and crowded places”.
The announcement is in stark contrast to the position of the Scottish Government, which has said there will be an “ongoing need” for face masks beyond August 9, when all other coronavirus restrictions are expected to be lifted here.
Scotland is due to move into level zero on July 19, after easing was delayed by three weeks. All major legal restrictions are then expected to be lifted in early August – beyond the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-19 system.
The so-called “freedom day” in England is expected on July 19, with a decision on whether or not to go ahead being taken a week earlier.
The Prime Minister has gambled on trusting the public’s judgment and the protection offered by vaccines as he scrapped mandatory mask-wearing and lifted social distancing requirements.
Johnson said England had to “balance the risk” of the disease from the virus and the harm from continuing with legal restrictions which “inevitably take their toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, on people’s health and mental health”.
He added: “And we must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer, and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves ‘when will we be able to return to normal?’
“And to those who say we should delay again – the alternative to that is to open up in winter when the virus will have an advantage, or not at all this year.”
Johnson also said the UK Government will no longer instruct people to work from home and that the “one metre plus” rule on social distancing will be lifted except in specific circumstances such as at the border, where guidance will remain to keep passengers from red and amber list countries from mingling with other travellers.
There will be no compulsory use of Covid status certification – so-called domestic vaccine passports – in England although firms will be able to voluntarily use the system.
Furthermore, the gap between vaccine doses for under-40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, meaning that all adults will have the opportunity to be double-jabbed by mid-September.
In Scotland, all health boards in the country’s mainland are now offering drop-in coronavirus vaccination clinics.
From Monday, anyone aged 18 and over can attend for their first dose of the vaccine. If eight weeks have passed, people will be able to attend to receive their second dose.
The next review of restrictions in Scotland will be on July 13 ahead of proposed changes commencing on July 19.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said face coverings were likely to be required in certain settings “at least for a period” even when the country moves beyond level 0.
The spokesperson said: “Physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, staying at home if you have symptoms and getting tested, some flexibility from employers with regards home-working and – above all – getting vaccinated will all continue to be important tools in helping keep transmission down, and part of the collective, civic duty we all owe to each other.
“Face coverings are a hugely important mitigation in the fight against Covid-19 as they create a physical barrier that helps stop the virus spreading from an infected person, while providing a degree of protection to the wearer against exposure to the virus. At least for a period, we are therefore likely to require the continued wearing of face coverings in certain settings — for example, shops and public transport. We are engaging with a range of sectors ahead of final decisions being made.
“In considering future measures, we will always keep measures under review. As has been our approach from the outset, we will continue to use evidence to ensure all our decisions are necessary and proportionate. All changes to legal restrictions will be scrutinised by parliament.”