Will face masks and social distancing still be required after July 19?
Some COVID restrictions may continue beyond the delayed lockdown lifting date as England prepares to open up the rest of the economy this summer.
Restrictions on the nightlife and travel sectors are expected to ease when England finally exits lockdown on July 19 – but advocacy of mask-wearing and social distancing may continue for several months.
The nation is running four weeks behind schedule in its bid to lift remaining measures – with ‘Freedom Day’ delayed by the emergence of a Delta variant which has sent cases spiking to their highest levels in months.
COVID rates have now returned to February levels – with (7-day rolling) average cases per day now above 11,000.
Ministers are reviewing travel restrictions following industry pressure (including a mass protest at Manchester Airport this week) – with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set to provide an update to MPs on Thursday (June 24).
The hospitality sector is also urging the government to rapidly rethink COVID rules – with some venues reportedly losing money by staying open due to limits on indoor capacity.
But whilst these sectors continue to push for change ahead of the big reopening date in July, it appears that social distancing and masks may remain in place in England beyond the end of lockdown – even if they are only advised rather than required.
Ministers have been making all the right noises regarding July 19 reopening, with the Prime Minister and Health Secretary seemingly satisfied with the present data.
However, according to The Telegraph, social distancing and face masks will continue to be recommended through summer and beyond.
The newspaper claims that laws underpinning face covering and social distancing rules are due to be lifted in time for July 19 but “advice to Britons to that effect is set to remain in place”.
It is expected, however, that the Rule of Six – which limits indoor gatherings to half a dozen people – and table service in bars/restaurants will be scrapped, giving hospitality venues the ability to welcome more customers.
Some experts have emphasised that measures such as hand-washing, distancing and face masks are all necessary to keep the virus at low levels.
Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England, previously stated that some measures may last “years” and that it was worth waiting “until other parts of the world are as well vaccinated” as England to stop using masks.
Sadiq Khan has also expressed concern for dropping the use of masks, with a spokesperson for the London Mayor telling the Evening Standard: “Evidence shows that the wearing of face masks gives many Londoners the confidence that they can travel safely on public transport.
“People feeling confident they can travel on our tubes, buses and trains as they get busier will be a vital part of encouraging more people into central London as restrictions are lifted further, and it is something that we will continue to look at closely.”