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Boris Johnson speaking at press conference about lifting restrictions
Johnson has been criticized in the past for not imposing lockdowns fast enoughImage: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP
HealthUnited Kingdom

UK's Johnson confirms July 19 end to COVID rules

July 5, 2021

UK premier Boris Johnson has said most remaining restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in England will probably be lifted as planned on July 19. But his announcement comes amid warnings by scientists and others.


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that July 19 would likely see the lifting of most restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus in England.

His announcement at a press conference in Downing Street came as cases in England rise to their highest level since January. A final decision is to be taken on July 12.

The other parts of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are also planning to leave lockdowns on similar paths but more slowly.

What type of restrictions will be lifted on July 19?

  • The wearing of face masks will be voluntary except in hospitals and other health care settings. Transport providers can still choose to insist on masks, if they decide to, however.
  • Nightclubs and other businesses will be able to reopen.
  • There will be no more legal limits on numbers at indoor and outdoor meetings.
  • There will be no more 1-meter (3.3-foot) rule on social distancing.
  • The interval between vaccine doses for people younger than 40 will be reduced to eight weeks from 12 weeks to speed up the vaccine rollout.
  • People will no longer be instructed to work from home.
  • Fully vaccinated people will no longer have to self-isolate if they have had contact with an infected person.
  • London's Regent Street, deserted
    The UK has seen several strict lockdownsImage: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images

What else did Johnson say?

Johnson, who himself suffered a serious bout of the disease, has often talked of COVID-19 as something to be conquered, but Monday's announcement seemed to suggest that society would have to learn to live with the virus.

"As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from COVID and exercise judgment when going about our lives," Johnson said ahead of his address.

At the press conference, Johnson, however, noted that "this pandemic is far from over'' and "we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID.''

The lifting of restrictions was originally planned for June 21, but Johnson was forced to delay because the highly contagious delta variant caused a resurgence of infections. 

Boris Johnson holding a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine
The vaccination rollout in the UK is seen by many as exemplary but is facing a new challenge in the delta variantImage: Geoff Caddick/REUTERS

What do scientists and critics say?

The health spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, Jonathan Ashworth, said the decision could lead to "further pressure on the health system, more sickness, disruption to education and risks a new variant emerging with a selection advantage."

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said easing restrictions made more sense in summer, when schools are closed, people are outdoors more and other respiratory infections are in abeyance.

The British Medical Association urged the government to maintain some restrictions, calling a current increase in the number of COVID-19 cases "alarming." 

"Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new 'variant factories' at a very fast rate," said Susan Michie, a psychology professor at the University of London who specializes in behavioral science.

Group of anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protesters in London
The anti-coronavirus measures triggered minority protests in the UK as elsewhereImage: Henry Nicholls/REUTERS

What is the situation in the UK?

The UK has had the highest death toll from COVID-19 in western Europe, with 128,000 people dying from the disease.

In the past week, infections have risen sharply, from about 2,000 a day earlier this year to more than 20,000. But the death toll has dropped dramatically in comparison with the early days of the pandemic, with just 122 coronavirus-related deaths last week.

Public health officials say the comparatively high rate of vaccination in the UK has been decisive in lowering the death toll from the disease. So far, 86% of UK adults have been vaccinated at least once, while 65% are fully vaccinated.

tj/jlw (AP, AFP, Reuters)


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