Covid rules: Boris Johnson under pressure to maintain some rules
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces backlash for removing mask-wearing and other additional covid rules
- British government drops workplace guidelines that require staff to work from home
- Daily coronavirus cases in Britain spiralling due to more transmissible Delta variant
- New findings suggest most UK adults possess COVID antibodies
The UK government confirmed that all remaining covid rules in England would be lifted on July 19th, dubbed “Freedom Day”.
From July 19th, the UK will scrap social distancing rules, and venues that have been shuttered for over a year, such as nightclubs, will be allowed to reopen.
The British government has also published new workplace guidance, which Trade Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady described as a “recipe for chaos.”
According to the latest guidance, social distancing rules will no longer apply in workplaces, and employees should gradually return to offices, factories, warehouses and other work venues over the summer.
Face masks are no longer mandatory, albeit this has caused an uproar from unions and mayors, who have asked UK PM Boris Johnson to consider the associated risks of removing this COVID rule.
A bitter row already ensued between Parliament and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. He said he would continue to enforce face coverings on public transport in the capital irrespective of rules lifting on July 19th.
England’s mayors urging No.10 to mandate mask-wearing on public transport
Mayors of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and other regions in England have also rebelled against Downing Street mask-wearing orders, with face masks set to remain compulsory on public transport in these regions of the country.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan slammed Boris Johnson’s approach on easing COVID rules, stating that he was not prepared to put the people of London at risk for the sake of the UK government.
However, unlike Mr Khan, other mayors do not have the power to impose blanket rules across transport services, which has led to growing calls for the UK government to introduce a national mandate.
Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, commented saying that while face masks and coverings are not mandatory, they are still “recommended and expected” in crowded areas.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who is holding a joint press conference on mask rules for public transport, said, “one person’s decision to not wear a face mask could significantly affect the mental and physical health of nearby passengers.”
He added that a national mandate would make rules on mask-wearing less confusing and give the clinically extremely vulnerable peace of mind when travelling on public transport.
Although he acknowledged the importance of returning freedoms to the public, he noted: “We are still in a pandemic, so we should prioritise collective safety over individual freedom.”
Several countries that already tried lifting all COVID-19 restrictions this year are now paying the consequences with higher infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths.
Some nations have also had to reintroduce coronavirus lockdown measures due to the severity of the situation.
What has happened in countries that have already relaxed COVID rules?
There have been mixed results on coronavirus lockdown easing, albeit most countries have had to make an embarrassing U-turn due to spikes in cases.
Israel has been a world leader in fighting COVID-19, and its successful coronavirus vaccination programme allowed the Israeli government to lift restrictions back in February.
The government scrapped rules on face masks and reopened all areas of its economy, including retail, hospitality and entertainment venues.
Although more than half of its adult population is fully vaccinated, daily coronavirus cases in the country are surging due to the rapidly spreading Delta variant. COVID cases in the country hit a four-month peak of 754 on July 13th, prompting new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to reintroduce some COVID restrictions.
While hospitalisations and deaths remain relatively low, face coverings and quarantine measures for travellers arriving into the country have been reimposed.
However, the Israeli government wants people to learn to live with COVID, so they have refrained from reintroducing more draconian measures.
The Netherlands has seen daily coronavirus cases increase by 500% in the latest 7-day period, with 40% of COVID cases traced to outdoor hospitality and nightclubs.
The Dutch government abandoned face covering and social distancing rules in late June following a sharp decline in cases and a pick-up in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Members of the States-General also encouraged young people to take advantage of their new freedoms. However, Prime Minister Mark Rutte was forced to take an embarrassing U-turn on restrictions last week after the infection rate hit its lowest levels since December 2020.
The Dutch government issued a midnight curfew for restaurants, bars and other public venues, while nightclubs and other nighttime entertainment businesses were forced to close their doors.
South Korea’s COVID success story started with failure, but the country quickly got a grip on the coronavirus pandemic and almost erased the virus’s presence within its borders.
In June, the government unveiled plans to return freedoms to double vaccinated people and allow them to enjoy small gatherings and roam outdoors without wearing a face covering.
However, new daily infections are lingering around record levels, with 1,600 cases reported on Thursday. While this is significantly lower than daily COVID-19 caseloads being identified in other countries such as the UK, as the vast majority of the South Korean population is unvaccinated, health experts are concerned.
Over in the UK, the NHS has been told to brace for a “triple threat” of respiratory cases this winter. Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that as many as 60,000 fatalities could occur in the worst-case scenario.
UK’s COVID situation set to deteriorate
According to the latest reports, more than 500,000 people in England were contacted by NHS Test and Trace in the week ending July 7th – a 46% increase week-on-week.
A report commissioned by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance noted that COVID-19, flu, and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could pressure the NHS this winter.
It comes as the UK’s infection rate hits its highest level in six months, with 42,302 new coronavirus cases and 49 deaths recorded in the last 24 hours – the highest number of daily coronavirus infections since January 15th.
Given that it is also the eighth consecutive day that cases have surpassed 30,000, UK PM Boris Johnson could face increasing pressure to reinstate more draconian measures to tackle the rising infection rate.
In the last few weeks, Mr Johnson has encouraged the public to learn to live with the virus and ministers are reportedly prepared to tolerate the daily infection rate exceeding 100K.
However, a dire winter could have significant consequences on public health, with the waiting list for non-COVID care already standing at a record 5.3 million.
Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid has already warned that the waiting list could exceed 13 million by the end of the year in a worst-case scenario.
The staff shortage crisis will also ramp up pressure on the healthcare system, with approximately 84,000 vacant roles in the NHS.
Mr Javid tried to offer some reassurance after highlighting that more than two-thirds of UK adults are double vaccinated.
According to the latest figures from GOV.uk, 35,155,767 people have received two COVID jabs, and 46,037,090 have been administered one coronavirus vaccine.
Separate research conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has also shown that approximately 90% of England’s adult population would have tested positive for COVID antibodies in the week ending June 20th due to previously having the virus or being vaccinated.
In Scotland, the figure rose from 71.8% to 84.7% month-on-month and almost 92% in Wales – an increase of 9.7% on the previous month. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, an estimated 87.2% of the adult population would have tested positive for antibodies just over a month ago.
However, separate data from the Imperial-led REACT-2 study revealed that people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine are less likely to produce COVID antibodies than those vaccinated with the Pfizer jab, especially in the over-80s age group.
Although the ONS has suggested that Britain is close to achieving herd immunity, health experts have urged the British government to delay final lockdown lifting plans due to the exponential surge in coronavirus cases.
More than 1,000 scientists, including four members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), have warned Downing Street about easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions prematurely.
They described Mr Johnson’s plans to unlock the UK economy as “unethical” and accused the government of pursuing an “unscientific” policy of “herd immunity by mass infection”.
With no signs of the July 19th reopening being delayed, Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, has urged Britons to hurry and get vaccinated or bring their second vaccine appointment forward.
According to the latest reports, text messages have been sent to some 650,000 UK residents regarding moving vaccine appointments forward in the last couple of weeks.