After one of the world’s longest lockdowns, the British government is expected to announce on Monday that it will lift the last of its coronavirus restrictions in England on July 19.
The expected announcement was met with both hope and trepidation, as emerging variants have caused an increase in infections in the country in recent weeks, threatening the country’s health-care system.
In a government briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will address the public on Monday evening, hinted at the impending changes. People in the country, he said, needed to “learn to live with this virus.”
“Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are cautiously progressing through our road map,” Mr. Johnson said in a government briefing. He emphasised that the pandemic was not over and that people would need to “exercise judgement.”
The full reopening was supposed to happen last month, but it was postponed due to concerns about the more contagious Delta variant. In recent weeks, the number of infections in the country has increased, primarily among younger people who have only recently become eligible for vaccination. 86 percent of adults in England, on the other hand, have received at least one vaccine dose, one of the highest rates in the world.
Nightlife and live event organisers, who had largely gone silent during the pandemic, had lobbied against further delays. While many venues are still closed, Wembley Stadium will host the semifinals and finals of the European Championship soccer tournament in the coming days, with up to 60,000 people permitted to attend if they show proof of vaccination or a negative virus test.
However, there are fears that the large crowds will spark more outbreaks. According to National Health Scotland, over 2,000 people in Scotland tested positive for the virus last week after watching a Euro 2020 game at a stadium, fan zone, or pub — nearly two-thirds of whom were linked to a Euro 2020 game in London.
With the full reopening of England, restaurants and pubs will be able to serve more customers, and restrictions on gatherings such as weddings will be lifted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom reported over 24,000 new daily cases, the highest number since early February. Medical experts have also urged officials to keep some regulations in place, such as mandatory face coverings and social distancing guidelines.
“It’s not a binary decision of all or nothing,” Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association Council, said, adding that such measures would mitigate the impact of rising infections.
In recent weeks, England has stepped up efforts to immunise children, and officials said they were working on a programme to provide booster shots to people over 50 and other vulnerable people this winter.