Express & Star

Covid restrictions to be lifted but concerns remain

Freedom Day will come in a fortnight – but there remain significant fears about its impact.

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More than half of Express & Star readers have expressed concern about the relaxation of measures, confirmed by Boris Johnson.

And many experts have also questioned the strategy, with one West Midlands virologist saying the Prime Minister was removing the “tools to tackle Covid”.

Mr Johnson said July 19 would be the day when rules relating to coronavirus will be torn up.

Laws surrounding mask wearing and social distancing will be lifted, with the emphasis instead being placed on personal responsibility.

The changes open the way for nightclubs to open and theatres to return to full capacity. Music and sporting events will return to normal.

Mr Johnson said the changes would work because the UK’s vaccination programme had broken the link between virus rates and serious illness.

But concerns remain among the public. Of almost 1,000 people questioned on, only 43 per cent said they supported the lifting of restrictions.

Mr Johnson said the requirement to work from home will be lifted, as will the ‘rule of six’ in social settings. The system of school bubbles will be replaced by extra testing. Weddings and funerals can return to normal. While red travel lists will remain for some countries, work will begin to remove the quarantine requirement for people returning from amber countries.

Meanwhile vaccinations will be sped up, with the gap between doses reduced to eight weeks in order to get all over 18s double-jabbed by the end of September.

The limit on named care home visitors will be lifted but infection control measures will remain in place.

The Prime Minister said the pandemic “is far from over” and that cases are rising “fairly rapidly”. But he added: “As we come to the fourth step we have to balance the risks. If we can’t reopen society in the next few weeks when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, we must ask ourselves ‘when will we be able to reopen?’”

He said while the Government will end the legal obligation on wearing a face covering. Guidance will suggest “where you might choose to do so”. He gave the example of crowded public transport as somewhere where people “may wish” to protect themselves.

The Prime Minister said there will be no Covid certificates required to attend events or venues and there will be a different regime for self-isolation, with testing used to free people from having to stay indoors.

Experts are split on the merits of the relaxation. Dr Arthur Hosie, a Staffordshire University microbiologist, said the steps were “premature” and accused Mr Johnson of being “populist”.

He called for a further delay to allow for more vaccinations, warning the strategy risked further development of the virus.

He said: “This is a new virus to which we have had no exposure over previous years. Mask wearing and social distancing are important – to remove them is to remove the tools we need to live with the virus.”