London: The British government on Monday lifted pandemic restrictions on daily life in England, abandoning all social distancing – a move that academics and opposition parties have called a dangerous leap into the unknown.
From midnight (3am on Sunday in the UAE), nightclubs were able to resume operations, and other closed establishments were allowed to operate at full capacity, while legal regulations regarding wearing masks and working from home were lifted.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has self-isolated after his health minister was infected, has called on the public to remain vigilant and all laggards to join the two-thirds of Britain’s adults now fully vaccinated.
He defended what some media outlets have dubbed “Freedom Day,” despite serious concerns from scientists after the UK’s daily infection rate topped 50,000, second only to Indonesia and Brazil.
“If we don’t do it now, then we will open in the fall, during the winter months, when the virus has the advantage of cold,” the prime minister said in a video message.
The start of summer school holidays this week was “precious fire protection,” he said.
“If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it? So now is the right time, but we have to do it carefully. “
Jonathan Ashworth, a health spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, said the government is acting “reckless”, echoing experts who say the opening of the new building threatens the health of the entire world.
“We are opposed to opening up without any precautions,” Ashworth told the BBC, particularly criticizing the government’s plan for masks.
Following the success of the vaccination program, which now offers at least one dose to every adult in the UK, the government says any risks to hospital care are manageable.
But Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London warned that 100,000 cases a day are expected in the UK as the delta variant of Covid spirals out of control.
“The real question is, can we double that or even more? And this is where the crystal ball starts to fail, ”he told the BBC.
“We could get up to 2,000 hospitalizations a day, 200,000 cases a day, but this is much less certain,” he said.
Doctors warned that even if there were far fewer deaths in Britain than in previous waves, such a burden would still put serious pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) and risk sowing new options.
Senior Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, a former health minister, said the government should learn from Israel and the Netherlands, which have been forced to lift recent indulgences.
“The warning light on the NHS dashboard does not flash yellow, it flashes red,” he told BBC radio.
Scotland and Wales, whose decentralized governments set their own health policies, have said they will retain the mandate for face masks, among other restrictions.
But in England all restrictions on social mixing were lifted. Sports stadiums, cinemas and theaters can now return to a full house.
Fully vaccinated residents returning from amber list destinations in Europe should no longer be quarantined – although at the last moment the government dropped the requirement for France.
Self-isolation requirements also persist after close contact, which have forced millions of people to leave their jobs or school in recent weeks, leading to industry warnings of severe economic disruption.
After contacting Health Minister Sajid Javid Johnson and Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak, they first tried to use an official testing pilot scheme that allows participants to avoid complete self-isolation.
But after public and political protest, Downing Street turned sharply.
Johnson, who nearly died of Covid last year, will remain at the prime minister’s country home in Checkers northwest of London until July 26.
“We took a quick look at the idea of our participation in a pilot scheme that allows people to test on a daily basis,” he said.
“But I think it’s much more important that everyone sticks to the same rule.”
Others called on the government to stick to a cautious global consensus on tackling the pandemic, rather than agreeing with the libertarian instincts of Johnson and other conservatives.
The government’s stated approach to lifting controls now, before any winter surge in respiratory illness, is marked by “moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity,” said Gabriel Scully, a public health expert at the University of Bristol.