LiveBoris Johnson Covid conference: Cautious approach to ending England lockdown on July 19 confirmed

Ministers have set out a cautious approach to England’s “freedom day” on July 19 in response to soaring coronavirus cases.

Monday, 12th July 2021, 4:17 pm

Although most legal restrictions will largely be lifted, hopes of a complete return to normality have been dashed by the spread of the Delta variant.

Ministers concluded that the four tests set for unlocking are being met, allowing Step 4 of the road map to proceed as planned.

But the use of domestic vaccine passports and face masks will be encouraged, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has told MPs today.

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Boris Johnson is expected to announce the lifting of all Covid restrictions on July 19 (photo: PA).
Boris Johnson is expected to announce the lifting of all Covid restrictions on July 19 (photo: PA).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead a Downing Street press conference at 5pm to give further details of the plans, joined by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

Follow below for live updates.

Live as Government confirms July 19 ‘freedom date’

Last updated: Monday, 12 July, 2021, 17:53

Vaccines reduce virus transmission by 75%, Sir Patrick Vallance

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said vaccinations are reducing the overall chances of someone transmitting the virus by about 75 per cent.

Sir Patrick told a Downing Street news conference that people who had been vaccinated were both less likely to catch the virus and less likely to pass it on.

He said there was “no doubt” the country was in a third wave of the virus that would lead to an increase in the number of hospital admissions.

“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 of a rise,” he said.

Vaccine passports advised for nightclubs

Boris Johnson added that nightclubs and other venues with crowds should use vaccine passports for entry “as a matter of social responsibility”.

He said: “As a matter of social responsibility we’re urging nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass which shows proof of vaccination, recent negative test or natural immunity, as a means of entry.”

Guidance for a gradual return to offices

Boris Johnson has said a “gradual return to work over the summer” is expected rather than a rush back to the office en masse.

The Prime Minister added: “We’re removing the Government instruction to work from home where you can but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desk as one from Monday.

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

Boris Johnson: Pandemic ‘is not over'

Boris Johnson has warned that the coronavirus pandemic “is not over” as he said mask use will be advised in crowded and enclosed spaces even after legal controls end.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over.

“This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and 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.”

Covid-19 peak ‘could lead to 1,000 to 2,000 hospital admissions per day’

The peak of the third wave of Covid infection across England is not expected before mid-August and could lead to 1,000 to 2,000 hospital admissions per day, Government scientists believe.

Experts are urging the public to “go slow” once restrictions lift on July 19, to curb infections and cut the number of people who will go on to die from Covid-19.

They recommend that workers do not all head back to the office from mid-July, continue to wear masks in crowded spaces and stay at home when infected or contacted by the NHS app or NHS Test and Trace.

Central estimates from modellers advising Government show that step 4 of the road map for England and the wave of infection could be associated with 1,000 or more hospital admissions per day at the peak (with an estimate of 1,000 to 2,000 per day).

Deaths are expected to be between 100 and 200 per day at the peak of the wave, though there is a large amount of uncertainty in the modelling.

Most of the modelling presented to the Government has a lower expected peak of infection than that seen in January this year.

Scientists argue that if people revert to normal pre-pandemic behaviour all at once on July 19, then there will be a big wave of infection and larger numbers admitted to hospital.

Instead, if behaviour reverts to normal over several months, the impact will be lower.

Government scientists say that while the link between cases and hospital admissions is weakened due to vaccines, it has not been broken.

Labour criticises Government’s ‘high risk’ approach

Labour has criticised the Government’s “high risk” and “fatalistic” approach to unlocking on July 19.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, told the Commons the Government’s plan to continue with the road map next week could lead to more mutant variants of Covid-19, likening it to the Health Secretary “putting his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seat belt off”.

Mr Ashworth said: “The Secretary of State has taken a high risk, indeed fatalistic, approach. Trying to guess what might happen in the winter, deciding that infections are going up anyway.

“Instead of caution he is putting his foot down the on the accelerator while throwing the seat belt off.

“He admits that could mean 2,000 infections a day.

“That means potentially thousands suffering debilitating long Covid. It means as more cases arise potentially more escape and the threat of new more transmissible variant emerging.”

Four ‘unlocking’ tests being met, Government says

Ministers concluded that the four tests set for unlocking, the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence that vaccines are causing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge in admissions, and that no new variants of concern throw progress off track, are being met, allowing Step 4 of the road map to proceed as planned.

This is despite official acknowledgement that there could be 100,000 new cases a day in the summer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead a Downing Street press conference at 5pm to give further details of the plans, joined by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

Face masks ‘expected and recommended’ on public transport

Downing Street said the Government will “expect and recommend” the continued use of face masks in crowded areas and on public transport.

The return of employees to the workplace, seen as key for helping town and city centre businesses which rely on commuters, is not expected to happen overnight, with firms encouraged to take a gradual approach.

A series of guidance documents will set out what is expected of firms as the Government shifts responsibility from the state to company bosses and citizens.

This includes new guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable, those most at risk from coronavirus.

Vaccine passports and tests advised for large events as Health Secretary confirms July 19 plans

The use of domestic vaccine passports and face masks will be encouraged as ministers set out a cautious approach to England’s “freedom day” on July 19 in response to soaring coronavirus cases.

Although most legal restrictions will largely be lifted, hopes of a complete return to normality have been dashed by the spread of the Delta variant.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that it was the “right time to get our nation closer to normal life”.

“To those who say ‘why take this step now’ I say ‘if not now, when?’

“There will never be a perfect time to take this step because we simply cannot eradicate this virus.”

Mr Javid said the Government’s approach was “about balancing the harms that are caused by Covid with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring”.

Vaccine passports to be encouraged

The Government has previously said that from Step 4 all coronavirus restrictions on gatherings will be removed, masks will no longer be legally required, social distancing measures will be scrapped and the order to work from home will be lifted.

But while the legal restrictions are going, guidance will make clear that people and firms are expected to continue to take action to limit the spread of the virus.

This includes the widespread use of Covid status certification, the so-called vaccine passports allowing people to show whether they are double-jabbed, have a negative test result or have natural immunity after recovering from Covid-19.

Nightclubs, which have been closed since the first lockdown in March last year, will be allowed to open their doors but will be encouraged to use certification to minimise the risks.

Other “large events” will also be encouraged to use vaccine passports, with customers able to prove their status using the NHS app.

Health Secretary confirms July 19 plans:

Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed England will move to Step 4 of plans to ease coronavirus restrictions on July 19, saying: “If not now, when?”

Minister denies mask confusion

A health minister has denied there could be confusion around the Government’s stance on mask wearing after legal restrictions have been lifted.

Edward Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he is likely to continue to wear a face covering when on a train or in a lift with other people, but not necessarily when outside with few people nearby.

The Conservative MP added: “Train companies may well look at, as conditions of carriage, whether they want to impose additional guidance or additional restrictions.

“But at a governmental level, what we have set out, what we will be looking to do is see the legal requirements fall away but for guidance – strong guidance and cautious guidance – to be in place for people to exercise their common sense.”

Asked about former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith complaining that the stance risks creating confusion, Mr Argar replied: “I don’t think that the British people will struggle to look at the guidance and form their own common-sense judgment – I don’t think it will introduce confusion.

“I think people will look at it, they will form a sensible judgment based on the guidance.”

Third wave of Covid-19 in England: what does the latest data show?

– New cases

The rate of new cases of coronavirus in most areas of England is now back at levels last seen during the winter.

A total of 178,534 new confirmed cases were recorded in England in the seven days to July 7, according to Public Health England – the equivalent of 317.2 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from 224.2 per 100,000 one week earlier, and is the highest rate of new cases since January 25.

It is still some way below the second-wave peak of 680.6 per 100,000, however.

Case rates in all regions of England are now at their highest level since at least February.

North-east England is recording the highest rate, with 750.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 7.

This is the highest rate for the region since comparable figures began in summer 2020, when mass testing was first introduced across the country.

All other regions are recording their highest rate since late January or early February this year, except for Yorkshire and the Humber where the rate is the highest since November last year.

Case rates are also continuing to rise for all age groups, with 20-to-29-year-olds recording the highest rate of 614.3 cases per 100,000 people.

It is the highest rate for this age group since the week to January 17.

Both five to nine-year-olds (248.6 cases per 100,000) and 10-to-19-year-olds (578.6) are now recording their highest rates since comparable figures began.

Of the 315 local areas in England, 297 (94%) are currently recording a week-on-week rise in cases rates and only 18 (6%) have seen a fall.

– Infections

Coronavirus infections in England are estimated to have risen to a level last seen in February.

Around one in 160 people in private households had Covid-19 in the week to July 3 – up from one in 260 in the previous week, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is the highest level since the week to February 19.

The percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have increased in all regions, with north-east and north-west England having the highest proportion of people likely to test positive in the most recent week: around one in 80.

– Covid-19 patients in hospital

Patient numbers have risen to levels last seen three months ago.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 2,352 as of July 9, according to the latest figures from NHS England.

This is up 46% from a week earlier and is the highest since April 8.

Patient numbers are not rising as sharply as cases or infections, however.

They are also a long way below the record 34,336 Covid-19 hospital patients at the peak of the second wave on January 18.

All regions are currently reporting a rise in Covid-19 patients, with north-west England having the highest number (648, up week-on-week by 26%), followed by the combined region of north-east England and Yorkshire (473, up 88%), London (435, up 35%) and the Midlands (419, up 65%).

Meanwhile, hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 in England stood at 461 on July 7 – the highest daily total since March 10.

Admissions peaked at 4,134 on January 12.

– Vaccinations

Around 87% of adults in England are estimated to have received one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, with nearly 66% having had both doses.

Vaccine take-up varies between different age groups, however.

While more than 95% of adults in the age groups 50-59, 60-69 and 70-79 are estimated to have had one dose, the latest figure for people aged 80 and over is 94%, suggesting around one in 17 in this age group has still not received any Covid-19 vaccine.

Among younger groups, 88% of 40-to-49-year-olds are likely to have had one dose, along with 78% of 30-to-39-year-olds and only 60% of 18-to-29-year-olds.

These estimates are for vaccinations delivered up to July 4.

The Government has said it will have offered all adults in England a first dose by July 19.

Just under 92% of people aged 80 and over are estimated to have had both doses of vaccine, suggesting around one in 12 are not fully vaccinated.

Some 93% of eligible residents of older adults care homes in England are estimated to be fully vaccinated, but only 75% of eligible staff in these care homes are likely to have had both jabs.

Nearly 91% of the clinically extremely vulnerable in England have received both doses, along with 77% of those aged 16-64 classed as at risk or a carer.

Latest estimates from Public Health England suggest vaccinations have directly averted over 46,300 hospital admissions in England, while the direct and indirect impact of the vaccination programme is believed to have prevented somewhere between 7.5 and 8.9 million infections.

It is also estimated to have prevented between 29,000 and 31,800 deaths.

– Deaths

There has been a slight increase in the average number of deaths reported each day of people in England who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

The number stood at 24 as of July 11, up from 15 a week earlier and 14 the week before that.

But this is still far below the sort of numbers seen in January and February of this year.

The seven-day average for reported deaths peaked at 1,135 on January 23.

The latest Covid statistics in Leeds

Here’s what Boris Johnson is expected to announce later

Boris Johnson to confirm lifting of Covid restrictions in England today - but freedoms ‘come with a warning’

The Prime Minister is expected to confirm plans to lift all remaining Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England today (12 July), despite rising cases.

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