Lockdown restrictions in England will probably be lifted on July 19 as planned, the UK prime minister said on Monday, as his new health secretary stated the country would adopt a one-way path out of the pandemic.
Boris Johnson, who had previously indicated that step four of England’s plan out of lockdown could take place as early as July 5, said the government would stick to its cautious and “irreversible approach”.
“With every day that goes by it’s clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that we’re very likely to be in a position on July 19 to say that really is the terminus and we can go back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible,” Johnson added.
This sentiment was echoed by Sajid Javid, who took over as health minister after Matt Hancock’s resignation on Saturday evening. Javid stated that returning to normality as “quickly as possible” remained his priority.
“I want to see the restrictions lifted and life going back to normal as quickly as possible . . . I want to see those restrictions lifted as soon as we can,” he said, speaking while on a visit to St Thomas’ Hospital, London.
“It’s going to be irreversible, there’s no going back. That’s why we want to be careful during that process.”
On Monday evening, Javid will provide MPs with the latest information on the country’s fight against the pandemic. He is expected to confirm to parliament that July 19 will remain the planned reopening date.
Under the next and final phase of reopening all remaining limits on social contact will be scrapped, while businesses that have continued to stay shut, such as nightclubs, will be able to operate once again.
According to the latest government data, more than 14,000 new coronavirus infections were recorded on Sunday, while 44.3m people across the UK have been given their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and 32.6m are now fully inoculated, representing 84 and 62 per cent of the adult population, respectively.
But health leaders on Monday urged Javid to adopt a cautious approach to lifting restrictions, warning that hospitalisations across the country remained a concern. Between June 16-22, 1,557 people were hospitalised with the virus in the UK.
“Covid is the most pressing issue,” argued Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation chief executive. “[Javid] needs to be a voice of caution in the cabinet in terms of the potential pressures in the health service,” he added, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I want them to know that they’re going to have my full support, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they get everything that they need during this time, especially as we . . . deal with the backlog,” he said.
Spending on social care is expected to be a contentious issue throughout Javid’s term, with the health department and the Treasury undecided on how best to fund the prime minister’s pledge to fix the crisis in the sector.
Javid’s appointment follows growing controversy surrounding his predecessor, who quit following revelations that he had an affair with his adviser Gina Coladangelo in May 2021.
The affair, first reported by The Sun newspaper, was captured via CCTV footage in Hancock’s department building, sparking security concerns within Whitehall.
Javid on Monday said the camera in question had now been “disabled”, adding: “For security, it’s just common sense that as a general rule I don’t think there should be cameras in a secretary of state’s office.”
“I am not sure where there was one here, but I am sure there will be more to this as the whole incident is investigated.”