The use of domestic vaccine passports and face masks will be encouraged as ministers set out a cautious approach to England’s “freedom day” on July 19 in response to soaring coronavirus cases.
Experts fear there could be 200 deaths a day as cases surge, despite the protection offered by the vaccination campaign.
Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over.
“This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family.
“We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 to life as it was before Covid.
“We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”
Mr Johnson warned that July 19 “should not be taken as an invitation by everybody simply to have a great jubilee and freedom from any kind of caution or restraint”.
He said he still hoped the road map was “irreversible” but “in order to have that, it has also got to be a cautious approach”.
Although the Government order to work from home where possible will lift from Monday, ministers encouraged firms to implement a gradual return to the workplace.
Nightclubs, which will be able to reopen on July 19 after being shut since the first lockdown in March 2020, and other venues with crowds should use vaccine passports for entry “as a matter of social responsibility”, Mr Johnson said.
The Covid Pass, on the NHS app, shows proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity having recovered from coronavirus.
Although its use will be voluntary at first, if cases continue to rise the Government could consider making it mandatory in certain venues in future.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that the current wave of cases would mean more hospital admissions and deaths.
But he said: “We’ve come to a stage in the pandemic when there is no easy answer and no obvious date for unlocking.”
Delaying it to the autumn would risk reopening at a time when schools are back from their summer holidays and people are spending more time indoors as the weather turns cold.
Under current modelling, the peak of the wave is not expected before mid-August, when there could be 1,000 to 2,000 hospital admissions per day, with deaths expected to reach between 100 and 200 per day, though there is a large amount of uncertainty.
The latest data showed:
– As of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 34,471 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.
– A further six people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total by that measure to 128,431.
– Up to July 11 some 45,923,721 people have received a first vaccine dose – up 42,000 on the previous day – while 34,872,131 have had both jabs, an increase of 107,620.
Ministers concluded that the four tests set for unlocking, the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence that vaccines are causing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge that would put “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS, and that no new variants of concern throw progress off track, are being met, allowing Step 4 of the road map to proceed as planned.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said experts were “cautious” in interpreting the data around the risk to the NHS.
“We cannot be quite as confident on this test as the others,” he said.
“But at this point, modelling data and other data would imply that if we go slowly with the next stage of the road map, the expectation is this will not reach the point where it is putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Prof Whitty said there was “no clear evidence” that a delay to reopening now would make a difference but “what is going to make a difference is going slowly”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the Government’s approach was “about balancing the harms that are caused by Covid with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring”.
Mr Javid said “sadly the case numbers will get a lot worse before they get better – we could reach 100,000 cases a day later in the summer”.
Although hospital admissions will also rise further but they are “far lower than they were at this point during the previous wave” and the vaccines had “severely weakened” the link between people catching coronavirus and ending up developing serious illness and possibly dying, Mr Javid said.
While the legal restrictions are going, guidance will make clear that people and firms are expected to continue to take action to limit the spread of the virus.
A series of guidance documents will set out what is expected of firms as the Government shifts responsibility from the state to company bosses and citizens.
This includes new guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable, those most at risk from coronavirus.
A further review will be carried out in September to assess the nation’s preparedness for autumn and winter.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Mr Javid he had adopted a “high-risk, indeed fatalistic approach” and “instead of caution he’s pushing his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seat belts off”.
The Confederation of British Industry’s chief UK policy director Matthew Fell said: “With the economy in England fully reopen soon, we’re now entering a brand new phase to the pandemic: living with the virus.
“The Government has rightly set out the terms of how we do this in a way that is practical, pragmatic and easy to follow. Instilling a sense of confidence in the plan for businesses and the public will be critical to success.”