The government announced on Monday that the majority of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on July 19, called “Freedom Day,” amid concerns that a spike in coronavirus cases could lead to more deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government is once again under criticism after his health minister Matt Hancock resigned for breaching the rules by kissing his staffer, had planned to revive the British economy last week.
However, due to an increase in coronavirus cases, mostly due to the more transmissible Delta form, the government postponed the deadline to July 19, drawing outcry from many firms that want the lockdown to end so they may recoup their losses.
“With each passing day, it becomes clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that by July 19, we’re quite likely to be in a position to declare that really is the end and we can go back to life as it was before COVID as far as possible,” Johnson told reporters.
Sajid Javid, Hancock’s replacement, confirmed the decision in parliament, saying he spent his first day on the job analyzing the statistics to see if the next stage of the liberalization, known as step four, might be implemented sooner.
“While we chose not to bring step four forward, we see no need to go beyond July 19th,” he told parliament, encouraging the people to adhere to the limits for the time being.
“July 19th remains our target date. The prime minister has called it our terminus date. For me, the 19th of July is not only the end of the line but the start of a exciting new journey for our country.”
Britain, which has one of the highest official death tolls from COVID, is seeing case numbers rise again, with daily increases topping 10,000 in recent days. But officials say a mass vaccination campaign is weakening the link between cases and deaths.
After the Sun tabloid revealed photographs of Hancock kissing and embracing an aide in his office at a time when it was against the rules for people to hug anyone outside their household, some officials are concerned that the public will start breaking the restrictions.
Johnson first stated on Friday that the situation was settled when Hancock publicly apologized, but Johnson later accepted Hancock’s resignation on Saturday, although expressing regret for having to receive the resignation letter.
“I read the report on Friday, and we have a new health secretary in place on Saturday,” he said, “and I think that’s about the correct pace to go in a pandemic.”