Covid-19: End of England’s Covid rules still set for 19 July

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

media captionSajid Javid: 'We see no reason to go beyond 19 July'

The final easing of lockdown measures in England is still set for 19 July, the new health secretary has said.

Sajid Javid told MPs that ministers "see no reason to go beyond" that "target date".

He said that while cases are rising, the number of deaths "remains mercifully low".

In a statement, he said no date for lifting restrictions would come with "zero risk" and that "we have to learn to live with" Covid-19.

"We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible," he said.

"The restrictions on our freedoms, they must come to an end."

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Mr Javid, addressing the House of Commons for the first time as health secretary, added that the government was aiming for "around two thirds of all adults in this country" to have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine by 19 July.

However, Labour's shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, asked what the government would do to push infections down.

"Vaccinations will do it eventually, but not in the next four weeks," he said. "I hope his confidence does not prove to be premature or hubristic."

The end of England's lockdown was originally scheduled for 21 June, but was pushed back by four weeks with the promise of a review after two. Mr Javid's update marks the end of that review.

The number of new cases across the UK has continued to rise quickly since the delay was announced.

A further 116,287 cases have been recorded in the past seven days – a 70% increase on the previous week's total.

But latest estimates show fewer than one in 1,000 infections is leading to a death. At the peak of the winter wave it was one in 60.

The talk of encouraging data is understandable. You only need to look at what was happening in the autumn when the second wave was starting.

As is the case now, infection rates were climbing rapidly from a low base.

Back then, that saw hospital admissions top 1,000 a day little over a month later. Thanks to the vaccines, hospitalisations are nowhere near that level now.

It means that what can be considered a proportionate response to the virus is now very different.

But admissions are still rising. So that is why government scientists are hoping to see some signs of a flattening in infection levels before a decision is made about 19 July.

The new health secretary is clearly confident that all remaining restrictions can be lifted then. The next two weeks will prove whether that faith is misplaced or not.

After his statement, Mr Javid was asked what he would do to help parents who were having to stay home repeatedly because their children were being told to isolate.

Mr Javid said a pilot was under way to ascertain whether "tests can be used in lieu of isolation".

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people in England were "very likely" to be able to return to "pretty much life before Covid" on 19 July.

He said it was "sensible to stick to our plan" of having a "cautious but irreversible approach" to lifting the remaining coronavirus restrictions

Until lockdown is further eased in England, limits will remain on gatherings.

Currently, groups of no more than 30 are allowed to meet outdoors, while up to six people or two households are allowed indoors. Capacity limits will continue at venues and nightclubs will stay closed.

However, some coronavirus pilot events are continuing as planned, including some upcoming Euro 2020 games, Wimbledon and arts and music performances. Attendees have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.

In Wales, meanwhile, the lifting of Covid restrictions has been paused and will be reviewed again on 15 July.

In Scotland, it is hoped that the remaining rules will be lifted on 9 August, while some rules in Northern Ireland will be reviewed on 1 July.

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