LIVE: Boris Johnson confirms the end of Covid restrictions in England at Downing Street press conference

Boris Johnson confirmed the Government will push ahead with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England at a press conference today.

Boris Johnson is holding a press conference this afternoon
Boris Johnson is holding a press conference this afternoon

The Prime Minister warned that coronavirus infections will rise as he prepared to announce the lifting of restrictions from July 19.

Ahead of a press conference this afternoon, he said England was ‘tantalisingly close’ to restoring its freedoms.

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Ministers have concluded that the four tests set for unlocking – the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence that vaccines are causing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge in admissions, and that no new variants of concern throw progress off track – are being met, allowing Step 4 of the road map to proceed.

But his comments came as arguments continued over plans to remove legal requirements to wear face coverings, with one expert adviser to the Government saying it is clear that masks “greatly reduce transmission”.

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LIVE: Boris Johnson holds Downing Street press conference

Key Events

  • Prime Minister expected to confirm end of Covid restrictions in Englad on July 19
  • But Johnson says the move means cases will rise and caution will still be necessary
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Boris Johnson is expected to announce that Cornoavirus restrictions in England will end next week at a Downing Street press conference today.

The Prime Minister has warned infections will rise as he prepares to announce the lifting of restrictions from July 19.

The Prime Minister said England was ‘tantalisingly close’ to restoring its freedoms.

But his comments came as arguments continued over plans to remove legal requirements to wear face coverings, with one expert adviser to the Government saying it is clear that masks “greatly reduce transmission”.

The Prime Minister said: “We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our road map out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning.

“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.”

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, said there has been “mixed messaging” over face masks.

And he said the UK is at a “really tricky phase” of the pandemic, with rising cases but “still very low numbers of deaths and very low numbers of hospital admissions, though they are creeping up a little bit”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t expect we’ll see the same size of the wave as we saw back in January, but we might expect some kind of surge in hospital admissions as we move into August so really, really difficult…

“I think we need to be a little bit cautious just for a little bit of a while yet until hopefully we see these turn over and we start to see hospital admissions ultimately going down again.”

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it is vital to keep some protective measures in place, such as wearing face coverings.

“I really don’t see why people are reluctant to wear face coverings – it is quite clear that they do greatly reduce transmission,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Prof Openshaw added that it is “more straightforward to try to get face masks used in dangerous situations if there is some kind of compulsion behind it”.

Sajid Javid said the Government would ‘come down hard at the moment we detect a new variant' as he outlined why the Government would progress with easing restrictions in England on July 19.

The Health Secretary said of the vaccination programme in England: “It has prevented between 7.5 million and 8.9 million infections, it’s prevented some 46,000 hospitalisations and around 30,000 people losing their lives all because of the protection vaccines can bring.”

Mr Javid reiterated cases are rising and could reach 100,000 a day later in the summer – with the average number of daily cases currently more than 26,000, which has doubled over the past 11 days.

He said hospital admissions are also rising but said they are lower in this wave compared to a previous wave, noting people over the age of 65 – who are more likely to be double-jabbed – accounted for 31% of Covid admissions last week compared to 61% in January.

Mr Javid said the Government will “stay vigilant” and keep a close eye on the data, adding: “On the basis of the evidence in front of us, we do not believe that infection rates will put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”

The Health Secretary went on: “Even as we look to ease restrictions, we will maintain tough measures at the borders and we will expand our capacity for genomic sequencing … so that we can come down hard at the moment we detect a new variant.”

The use of domestic vaccine passports and face masks will be encouraged as ministers set out a cautious approach to England’s “freedom day” on July 19 in response to soaring coronavirus cases.

Although most legal restrictions will largely be lifted, hopes of a complete return to normality have been dashed by the spread of the Delta variant.

Mr Javid also told MPs: “We have looked closely at the data against these four tests and we firmly believe this is the right time to get our nation closer to normal life.

“So, we will move to the next stage of our road map on July 19.

“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 – whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away.”

The press conference has begun.

Boris Johnson starts by paying tribute to Gareth Southgate and his England squad and tells those directing racist abuse at the players on-line: “I hope you will crawl back under the rocks from which you emerged.”

He expresses hope England and Ireland will be able to host a joint World Cup in 2030.

Boris Johnson warns that the coronavirus pandemic “is not over” as he says mask use will be advised in crowded and enclosed spaces even after legal controls end.

The Prime Minister tells his Downing Street press conference: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over.

“This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 to life as it was before Covid.

“We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”

The PM says a “gradual return to work over the summer” is expected rather than a rush back to the office en masse.

He says: “We’re removing the Government instruction to work from home where you can but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desk as one from Monday.

“We’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer.”

He says nightclubs and other venues with crowds should use vaccine passports for entry “as a matter of social responsibility”: “As a matter of social responsibility we’re urging nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass which shows proof of vaccination, recent negative test or natural immunity, as a means of entry.”

Johnson says there is “no obvious date” for ending restrictions as hospital admissions and deaths from coronavirus will rise.

The Prime Minister tells the press conference: “We’ve come to a stage in the pandemic when there is no easy answer and no obvious date for unlocking.”

The PM says July 19 is the right time to ease coronavirus restrictions because of the “natural firebreak” of the school holidays.

He says: “We also know if we were to now delay this fourth step, for instance to September, or later, then we would be reopening as the weather gets colder and as the virus acquires a greater natural advantage and when schools are back.

“We think now is the right moment to proceed when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays in the next few days.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty says going slowly through the next step is “essential” to reduce the impact of the “exit wave”.

He says there is wide agreement between the scientific community that the four-week delay to the final stage of the road map was important to reduce the number of people admitted to hospital and deaths.

“Secondly, there is extremely wide agreement that whenever we go through the next step, there is going to be what’s called an exit wave – there will be a wave associated with that.

“And that the slower we take it, the fewer people will have Covid, the smaller the peak will be, and the smaller the number of people who go into hospital and die.

“So, going very slowly through this step is really essential, and this again is the overwhelming view of the scientific people who have looked at this and of the medical profession.

“This is an overwhelming view. We should go slowly and steadily and cautiously, as the Prime Minister has laid out.”

Boris Johnson urges people to exercise “extreme caution” and “personal responsibility” when legal controls to limit the spread of coronavirus end.

The Prime Minister tells the Downing Street press conference: “On the issue of masks, we’re really following the same principle that we’re following with all the legislation that we’ve had in place.

“We’re trying to move towards personal responsibility, people thinking about others as well as about themselves and that applies to the social distancing, that applies to how we think about the vulnerable, how we make sure that we continue to exercise extreme caution as we continue in the fight against a very dangerous disease.”

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