When can masks be dropped? UK leader in renewing virus rules


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to the Nissan plant in Sunderland, England, on Thursday 1 July 2021. Johnson said unspecified “additional precautions” would be needed in the coming weeks, although he expressed confidence on Thursday that the rest of the restrictions on social contact in England will be lifted on 19 July. During a visit to the Nissan car plant in the northern English city of Sunderland, Johnson said he plans to reveal details of what the end of the lock restrictions will be like in the coming days. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell / Photo of the pool using AP

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday will provide an update on plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions in England amid speculation that it will set aside rules forcing people to wear masks in many public settings.

Johnson is scheduled to hold a press conference on the government’s current outlook regarding “freedom day,” the plan to end the remaining coronavirus restrictions on business and social interactions on July 19th. A final decision will be announced on July 12 based on a series of tests, included and the risks posed by new virus variants.

The British government, which established one of the longest closures in the world, has lifted restrictions on a series of steps that began with the reopening of schools in March. The fourth and final stage was delayed last month to provide time for vaccination of more people amid concerns about the rapid spread of the delta variant, which was first discovered in India.

“Today we will outline how we can restore people’s freedoms when we get to the fourth step,” Johnson said in a statement ahead of his press conference. “But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks.”

Some doctors have expressed concern about further easing the restrictions as infection rates continue to rise. But there has been no equivalent increase in hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19, encouraging ministers who believe Britain needs to learn to live with the virus and that it is the right time to end the remaining restrictions.

The number of new infections confirmed in the UK over the past seven days increased by 67% over the previous week, but the 122 coronavirus-related deaths were two fewer than the previous week.

Public health officials attribute the divergence of figures to the success of Britain’s vaccination program. Almost 86% of adults in the UK have received at least one dose of vaccine and 63.4% are fully vaccinated.

The British government is preparing to offer a third dose of vaccine to all those over 50, as well as vulnerable young people, to increase their immunity during the winter months, following the interim advice of the Joint Vaccination Committee and Immunization. Final advice is expected in the coming months.

In addition to rules on the use of face masks, Johnson will establish plans to ease the rules on social distancing and work from home, his office said. It will also discuss the government’s plans to certify people’s vaccination status or their recent COVID-19 test results with what is commonly known as a vaccine passport.

“As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks posed by COVID and exercise judgment when it comes to traversing our lives,” Johnson said.

England may soon abandon mask requirements, the minister says

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