UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed July 19 as his so-called "terminus date" for an end to all legal lockdown restrictions in England, striking a note of caution. As he confirmed plans for the reopening across a majority of the UK from next Monday, he urged the public to remain vigilant as the pandemic still poses a threat and therefore "caution" will be key in the coming weeks.
"This pandemic is not over. It continues to carry risks for you and your family, we cannot instantly revert to life as it was before COVID from July 19," Johnson said at a virtual briefing from Downing Street in London. While admitting that more deaths and hospitalisations are to be expected from coronavirus once lockdown ends, he said these had been "clearly foreseen" by the forecasters as he reiterated that opening up during the current warmer months would be a natural advantage over the deadly virus than in the winter months later in the year.
In a more cautious approach to the work from home guidance, Johnson added that the government does not expect the whole country to return to their desk as one" from July 19, just because the guidance is changing. He said that further details of a "gradual" plan for a return to offices will be published in the coming days, including an expectation for people to continue to wear face masks in crowded areas.
The move to step 4 in the UK PM's four-step roadmap for an end to lockdown was delayed by four weeks from June 21 to allow every adult to be offered a vaccine for better protection against the Delta variant. "We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning, Johnson said earlier in a Downing Street statement ahead of a scheduled briefing.
While the phenomenal vaccine rollout has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet. Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don't undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS, he said. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid updated Parliament on the plans earlier on Monday and laid out that the government's four tests to lift lockdown are being met.
The four tests are that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern (VOCs). The latest data was presented, with current modelling suggesting that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise as restrictions are eased. Hospitalisations, serious illness and deaths will also continue, albeit at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme.
As of July 10, Downing Street said a total of 80.3 million vaccine doses have been administered in the UK, with 45.7 million adults receiving a first dose (86.9 per cent) and 34.5 million adults receiving both doses (65.6 per cent). The government says that reopening from lockdown at a point later in the year may increase pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) because of winter illnesses such as flu.
Analysis from Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge suggests that vaccines have so far prevented an estimated 8.5 million infections and 30,000 deaths in England alone. "It is vital that people keep coming forward to get both jabs when called, with data from PHE showing COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant. The analysis suggests the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 96 per cent effective and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is 92 per cent effective against hospitalisation after two doses," Downing Street said.
Meanwhile, the NHS vaccination rollout is set to continue to accelerate by bringing forward second doses for under 40s to eight weeks. On Sunday, the UK recorded another 31,772 confirmed coronavirus cases, along with a further 26 deaths.