England ‘tantalizingly close’ to easing lockdown curbs, says Boris Johnson – POLITICO

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England is “tantalizingly close” to easing the majority of its lockdown restrictions in a week’s time, Boris Johnson said ahead of a press conference Monday at which he is expected to set out the government’s latest thinking.

The U.K. prime minister — who is aiming for the end of most coronavirus curbs in England on July 19 — said in a statement released before the press conference that caution on the part of the public remained “absolutely vital” as the country braces for a rise in cases.

Johnson has promised to scrap social distancing rules in most scenarios, put an end to the mandatory wearing of face coverings, and ditch legal restrictions on gatherings including weddings and funerals in England next week.

However, the easing is contingent upon meeting the government’s “four tests” for loosening COVID curbs. Johnson’s Downing Street press conference on Monday afternoon will lay out the state of play. Health Secretary Sajid Javid is also due to update parliament.

The government’s four tests are the continued success of the U.K.’s vaccination drive; evidence that the jabs are sufficiently effective at reducing death and hospitalization among those who have received them; infection rates that do not risk a surge in hospitalizations that would overwhelm the National Health Service; and a judgment that new coronavirus variants don’t fundamentally alter the picture.

Johnson will set out the latest data Monday, with No. 10 cautioning Sunday night that COVID cases are expected to rise as restrictions are eased, and that hospitalizations, serious illness and deaths will continue “albeit at a much lower level than before” the vaccination program.

Just shy of two-thirds (65.6 percent) of the U.K.’s adult population has now received both vaccine doses, according to the latest figures, with the government having already delayed an earlier planned easing of restrictions in June by four weeks to allow for more progress. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are ending their own curbs to a different timescale.

“We are tantalizingly 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.

He added: “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.”

The opposition Labour Party has questioned some elements of the government’s reopening strategy, arguing against the dropping of mandatory mask-wearing even while agreeing that the lifting of restrictions should go ahead on July 19.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green warned Sunday that moving to personal responsibility for masks was a “recipe for confusion” and “possibly a recipe for more confrontations.” She argued it would “be much clearer and simpler for the government to keep mandatory mask-wearing in public places in place after July 19.”

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