Members of the public are being urged to remain ‘careful’ and ‘vigilant’ as almost all legal coronavirus restrictions are removed in England today.
Dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, legal rules requiring social distancing and the wearing of face coverings were lifted at the start of today in England, while remaining venues such as nightclubs have also been allowed to reopen.
The lifting of restrictions comes almost 16 months since lockdown measures first began in the UK and some people have already been out in bars and nightclubs in the early hours of this morning to mark the occasion.
For many though, today will feel like anything but ‘freedom’, with COVID-19 cases currently rising rapidly in the UK. Vast swathes of the population are currently being told to isolate, case numbers are at their highest levels in months and some hospitals have had to cancel major operations due to coronavirus patients using up hospital beds. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary are among those currently self-isolating.
Around 100,000 coronavirus cases are expected to be reported in the UK each day later this summer – around 50,000 cases were reported each day for much of last week. Cases are currently up by 43.3% compared to the previous 7-day period, while the numbers of coronavirus-related hospital admissions and coronavirus-related deaths have risen by 39.4% in the last 7 days.
Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning though, the Government’s vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said “There is no perfect time to take this step, this is as good a time as any”, adding “I’m confident that we are doing the right thing”. Nearly 88% of UK adults have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while just over 68% have had two doses. There are though concerns that new variants of the virus may be less receptive to the work of vaccines, and that this may get worse as mixing increases.
England’s move to drop restrictions has sparked concern and criticism from international partners and at home. Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer has described the move to drop restrictions as ‘reckless, incompetent and dangerous’ and has called for measures such as the wearing of face coverings to remain mandatory.
Despite legal rules requiring their use being dropped from today, people are still being advised to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces such as public transport. In some places, including on the London Underground, the wearing of face coverings is still a mandatory requirement. Rules on international travel also remain in place, though have been somewhat eased for double-vaccinated Britons.
The Government has previously said that it wants to be able to let the public use their own common sense and protect themselves during the next phase of tackling coronavirus. Many people are continuing to wear face coverings as a personal choice, and rapid lateral flow tests are also still available to the public. Some people are expected to still use these safety measures and mitigations, while others are keen to get rid of them, as is now allowed by law.
The dropping of restrictions only applies to England, with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland setting their own paths out of lockdown measures.