- U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid on Monday confirmed that the final easing of lockdown rules in England will go ahead on July 19.
- The move comes despite a continuing surge in coronavirus cases caused by the more infectious delta variant; over 34,000 new cases were reported in the U.K. on Monday.
- It marks the sixth consecutive day that Covid infections have been above 30,000.
LONDON — U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid on Monday confirmed that the final easing of lockdown rules in England will go ahead on July 19.
The move comes despite a continuing surge in coronavirus cases caused by the more infectious delta variant; over 34,000 new cases were reported in the U.K. on Monday. It marks the sixth consecutive day that Covid infections have been above 30,000.
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Speaking in the House of Commons, Javid told lawmakers that England would move to the next stage of the government's roadmap from July 19.
Javid said that after closely monitoring the latest data, the government does not expect Covid infection rates to put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service.
"We firmly believe that this is the right time to get our nation closer to normal life," Javid said.
"Now, 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," he continued. "Whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away."
Javid said the government would recommend that those working from home gradually return to workplaces over the summer and advised people to continue to wear face coverings in certain settings, such as crowded indoor venues and on public transport — unless they are exempt.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to deliver a press conference at 5 p.m. London time. He has previously said that Covid should become "a virus that we learn to live with," like flu.
"Freedom Day" — or Step 4 in the government's long-term plan to ease restrictions — was moved to July 19 having previously been scheduled for June 21.
The government has said "four tests" for easing Covid restrictions have to be met before the easing can go ahead, including looking at data to confirm that the vaccine rollout is continuing successfully and that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalizations.
The delay in easing restrictions came as the delta Covid variant, originally discovered in India, spread throughout the country. While infection rates have risen, hospitalizations and deaths have not surged (although there has been a slight rise in these latter two sets of data) indicating that coronavirus vaccines are working to prevent severe infections.
Analysis suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalization after two doses.
Britain's Covid immunization program has been one of the fastest in the world with 87.1% of the adult population now having received a first dose of a vaccine, and 66% having received two doses, government data shows.
The government said Monday that the vaccination rollout will continue to accelerate by bringing forward second doses for under 40s to eight weeks.