If Not Now, Then When? UK Prepares to End Lockdown, Mask Mandates, Business Closures

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on relaxing restrictions imposed on the country during the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic at a virtual press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on July 5, 2021. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Monday unveil a plan to …
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that if lockdown didn’t end soon, it probably couldn’t end this year at all, as he launched the government’s “five-point plan for living with Covid” during a national television address.

While stopping short of confirming that lockdown would actually end on July 19th — that, he said, would be a decision taken on the basis of the latest figures on coronavirus next week — Boris Johnson nevertheless laid out what the country would look like when it did.

Outlining the “five-point plan for living with Covid” from Downing Street on Monday, Johnson hit back at the vocal criticism the government has taken in recent days from pro-lockdown and pro-mask hardliners, who argue that by relaxing the rules at all he was putting lives at risk.

Pointing to the success of the national vaccine rollout, Johnson said that if lockdown didn’t end soon, summer would shortly turn into winter, when he said the virus would have the upper hand.

Not lifting the lockdown during summer, therefore, would mean not lifting lockdown at all this year, the Prime Minister said. He remarked:

We must be honest with ourselves — if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and the school holidays — we must ask ourselves, when will we be able to return to normal?

Turning to “what our lives would be like” after the end of lockdown — already delayed once but likely to happen on July 19th — Johnson said “we have to balance the risks”. This meant on one hand, he said, that “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly to more deaths from Covid”, but also acknowledge that lockdown carries “risks” too.

Crucially, the Prime Minister acknowledged that lockdowns come with costs, noting they took a toll on “people’s lives, livelihoods, on people’s health and mental health.”

Johnson said that essentially all lockdown rules would go, including mask mandates, the closure of nightclubs, and limits on sporting and cultural events. He said:

We will change the basic tools we have used to control human behavior. We’ll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus… We will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow all businesses to reopen including nightclubs. We will lift the limit on named visitors to care homes and on numbers of people attending concerts, theatre, and sports events.

We will end the one-meter-plus rule on social distancing, and the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so, exspecially when cases are rising and where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed spaces such as on crowded public transport.

There were several caveats, however. While the government said it wanted to “do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs they bring”, it said it would also “retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods such as the winter”.

Opponents of compulsory ID schemes, which Britain, unlike many other countries, has successfully avoided so far, will have welcomed the news related by the Prime Minister that “there will be no Covid certificate required as a condition of entry to any venue or event”, but nevertheless Johnson left the door open for domestic health passports by the backdoor.

In a development long-trailed and speculated upon, the Prime Minister said businesses and events could discriminate against customers by refusing entry to those who can’t prove their Covid status. The government would support this, he said, through the NHS “Covid Pass” which could be checked by venues to screen out those not in the system.

Whether there would be so-called vaccine passports for domestic use in the United Kingdom — leaving ordinary citizens needing to prove their infection or vaccination status in order to visit the pub or go to a shop, for instance — has been hotly debated for months, with several U-turns performed by the government on the matter.

While at one point the government flatly denied Britons would ever need to show their vaccination status to enter a bar, that position has softened to the situation Johnson described today, with Covid doorkeepers not legally mandated, but tacitly supported by the government through the NHS’s app.

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