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Johnson plans end to lockdown in England

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-07-06 02:45

Govt warns pandemic not yet over, says individuals to use 'their own judgment'

England will emerge from its lockdown on July 19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday evening.

Under heavy pressure from the business community, which called on him to remove the nation's remaining social distancing measures in order to stimulate the economy, and from the medical community, which urged caution in the face of a sharply rising number of COVID-19 infections, Johnson said he could delay the reopening no longer.

"As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from COVID and exercise judgment when going about our lives," he said, while adding that the pandemic is "far from over and won't be over by July 19" but that all UK adults should have been offered a vaccine by then.

His call for individuals and employers to take more responsibility for people's safety after the rules are relaxed was criticized by the Trades Union Congress, which said it was an abdication of responsibility.

Sky News quoted the government's care minister, Helen Whately, as saying infections will inevitably rise after the relaxation but that there was no compelling reason not to sweep away work-from-home orders, the requirement for people to wear face masks, and the need for individuals to distance themselves from others.

"We're on track to give people back far more of their freedoms, much more back to normal," she said, while adding that the move was only possible because of "the sacrifices that people have made" and "the huge success of the vaccination program (which has) really weakened the link between people catching COVID and ending up in hospital and then, very sadly, the risk of dying".

At its worst during the winter, COVID-19 killed one person in the UK for every 60 who had it. Today, the ratio is one in 1,000.

The Evening Standard newspaper said the government believes people must now coexist with the virus as they do with the flu.

The BBC said Johnson wants individuals to decide for themselves whether they need to work from home, wear a mask, or attend crowded places.

The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will make their own decisions and announcements in the coming days.

The chairman of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul, said he had hoped England would continue to compel people to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces, especially in light of sharply rising numbers of infections caused by the Delta variant.

He said on Radio 4's Today program: "We know that face masks are proven to reduce spread of this infection."

The prime minister's office told the BBC the July 19 end of lockdown restrictions will, however, be contingent on four things; the effectiveness of vaccines, the speed of their distribution, the number of people being hospitalized, and the threat from new variants. The government will look at all four on July 12, before fully committing to the reopening.

Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director for NHS England, said on the BBC's Breakfast news program that, while infections are indeed rising, there has not been a corresponding rise in hospital admissions.

"Things are looking very good," he said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Luxembourg's prime minister, Xavier Bettel, was admitted to hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. The Guardian newspaper said he would spend 24 hours under observation while "additional tests and analyses "are carried out.

And in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran has urged people to get a vaccination as soon as possible because of a looming fourth wave of infections.

"For five days, (the infection rate) hasn't come down," Reuters quoted him as saying. "It's rising again, because of the Delta variant, which is very contagious. The British example shows that a fourth wave is possible from the end of July."

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