Boris Johnson discusses Stage 4 of roadmap out of lockdown

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Confirming that many controls will be lifted on Freedom Day, the Prime Minister said he still “expected” mask-wearing in crowded places. He added: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution. “And I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over.” Warning that the virus remains a deadly threat, Mr Johnson appealed to the public to exercise “personal responsibility” and to “think of others”. People will be “expected” to put on masks while using public transport and in other busy closed situations, although the coverings will no longer be compulsory.

Owners of nightclubs and other large venues will be encouraged to check the vaccination or antibody status of customers under the NHS Covid Pass scheme.

While the test, trace and isolate system continues, along with compulsory quarantine for travellers arriving from coronavirus red list countries, and fresh safety guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable will be published today.

The Prime Minister insisted “the right moment to proceed” with step four of his roadmap to normality had arrived, thanks to protection given by mass vaccinations.

He called for a gradual return to workplaces after more than a year of employees being encouraged to work at home. But the PM warned that caution was needed because of an expected surge in virus infectionss once restrictions are lifted.

Mr Johnson continued: “This disease coronavirus continues to carry risks for you and for your family.We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 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.

“We’re removing the Govern-ment instruction to work from home where you can but we

don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desks as one from Monday.

“And we’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer.”

He said the final stage of his route out of lockdown in England should not be taken as a cue for people to let down their guard: “What we want to do is get people to think carefully about the ending of the restrictions.

“This is not the end of Covid, it requires constant vigilance. It means thinking about others as well as yourself. It means thinking about wearing a face covering in confined spaces where you meet other people that you don’t normally meet.

“Because the legal restrictions have come off 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 added: “I hope that the roadmap is irreversible but in order to have that, it has also got to be a cautious approach.

“That’s why we waited those extra weeks to get seven million more jabs into people’s arms.

“We will proceed on Monday the 19th, but what people need to remember is that this pandemic is not over.

“If we’re cautious and everybody gets vaccinated then, yes, we can make steady progress.”

Defending his decision to scrap masks being mandatory, the Prime Minister said: “We’re trying to move towards personal responsibility, people thinking about others as well as about themselves.

“And that applies to the social distancing, that applies to how we think about the vulnerable, how we make sure that we continue to exercise extreme caution as we continue in the fight.”

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty urged people to go steadily in order to minimise any extra pressure on health services.

He added: “Everybody who works in the NHS – and indeed everybody who might use it or has friends or relatives who might use it – is going to want to keep the numbers of cases right down.

“That is one of the many reasons why we really want to urge people to take this really steadily because that’s the way to keep the numbers down, to keep the pressure on the NHS lower and make the possibility of clearing this number of cases much easier.”

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there was “no doubt” the country was in a third wave of the virus that would add to hospital admissions. He added: “If behaviour returns immediately to pre-pandemic levels that will be a very, very big rise. If we go slowly and cautiously, it will be less.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned MPs that there would never be an ideal moment to end restrictions. Speaking in the Commons, he said: “To those who say ‘Why take this step now?’, I say: If not now, then when?

“There will never be a perfect time to take this step, because we simply cannot eradicate this virus. Coronavirus is not going away.

“Moving forward next week, supported by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, gives us the best possible chance of a return to normal life. If we wait longer, then we risk pushing the virus towards winter, when the virus will have an advantage or, worse still, we risk not opening up at all.

“Data from Public Health England estimates that two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine offers protection of around 96 percent against hospitalisation, meaning fewer Covid patients in hospital beds and fewer people mourning.”

He said it was estimated vaccines in England had saved around 30,000 lives and stopped 46,000 people needing to go to hospital.

See the latest Covid vaccine stats below and visit InYourArea for all the Covid vaccine latest

Comment by Dr Raghib Ali

AS HAS been the case many times throughout this pandemic, the Prime Minister had a tough call to make today with risks and benefits from whatever decision he took. On balance, I think it’s right to lift restrictions on July 19.

I backed the four-week delay because we needed to get our defences as strong as possible before proceeding to step four in the roadmap.

This allowed all adults to get their first dose and all over-40s – who are at higher risk – to have both doses.

The amazing success of the vaccination programme means we are now in a very different position to last winter when we last had this number of cases, with the number of people in hospital about 80 percent lower and deaths more than 90 percent lower.

As the Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty said today, an “exit wave” of infections, hospital admissions and deaths is going to happen whenever we lift restrictions and delaying step four is not going to reduce those admissions and deaths.

And it could even make things worse as the weather changes, students return to school and universities, and the health service is put under more pressure from other viruses including flu.

Of course, there are still some potential risks and harms from Covid – with which I am only too familiar having served on the frontline in both previous waves. But these need to be balanced against the harms from ongoing restrictions including the impact on people’s mental health and their livelihoods.

It’s also essential that we keep the size of the peak as low as possible so the NHS is not overwhelmed with Covid and we can continue treating all our patients, especially when we have such a big backlog to catch up.

And that’s why we need to continue to be cautious after July 19. Sadly, we are not yet in a situation where we can go completely back to normal.

We need to continue wearing masks indoors where it’s not possible to keep our distance, keep windows open and meet outdoors as much as possible – and make sure we self-isolate if we test positive.

And finally, the best way to protect yourselves and others is to make sure you get both your jabs.

That’s what will give us the best chance of never having to go back into lockdown again and finally getting our lives back to normal.

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