July 19 sees England’s coronavirus restrictions eased once again.
Addressing the House of Commons last week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the news that had been expected: that July 19 – often dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ – will go ahead as planned. From today, England will therefore see an end to social distancing measures, mandatory mask wearing, and legal limits on social contact, which will allow for the reopening of nightclubs and other big venues. Whilst it’s a big step forward towards normality, Javid added a note of caution to the news.
The relaxing of restrictions marks the “start of a new phase of continued caution while we live with the virus and we manage the risks” Javid said, noting that this is not the end of the road in fighting off the virus. The government and its scientific advisors have been cautious in balancing the number of coronavirus cases with the itch to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle – for instance, this latest easing was delayed by four weeks from its original June 21 schedule by the rise of the Delta variant in the UK. However, having considered the data around vaccinations, caseloads, and hospitalisations, they’ve elected to move ahead with the next step. These are all the restrictions that will change or end in England from July 19:
Social distancing comes to an end
July 19 marks the end of the one-metre rule (which, if your memories stretch that far, was two metres at the beginning of the pandemic). This means the end of social distancing in England, and will see resulting changes to social venues; for instance, ordering at the bar in a pub will once again be allowed, as bars, pubs, and restaurants will no longer be restricted to just table service. However, the one-metre rule will remain in place at UK borders, to prevent mingling between passengers from red-list and amber and green-list countries.
Mask-wearing will no longer be enforced
Since March 2020, masks have become a part of everyday life for UK residents without a medical exemption – however, from July 19, wearing them in shops, restaurants, and on public transport won’t be enforced. In crowded situations (for instance, in busy shops or on the Tube), we’re still being encouraged to wear them – Javid noted they would be “expected and recommended” in public indoor spaces – and we may be asked to do so again if coronavirus cases rise. Please be considerate of others when choosing whether or not to wear a mask, especially in busy spots.
Limits on social contact will be ended
Up until today, we could gather in groups of six indoors (the infamous ‘Rule of Six’, which had been present in one form or another since last summer), or groups of up to 30 outdoors. From July 19, these limits will be scrapped, so if you’d like to organise a meal for ten people at a restaurant, invite 60 people to your birthday on Hampstead Heath, or throw a 300-guest wedding, you’re free to do so. This also means that music festivals are once again allowed from today.
Working from home will no longer be the norm
After over a year at home, the government guidance to work from home where possible will be dropped from July 19. It’ll be left up to employers to decide whether they require workers back in the office, although given how popular the shift has proved with some employees (in London, for instance, some workers have been saving a fortune on commuting costs, or even seeking homes and a lifestyle outside the capital), it’s doubtful that we’ll all be back in the office in quite the same numbers.
Nightclubs, theatres, and more can fully reopen
The removal of capacity limits and social distancing paves the way for the return of London’s nightclubs, which have seen some of the longest Covid-enforced shutdowns of the past year and a half. Revellers will be able to hit the dancefloor by the end of the month, whilst the likes of theatres, museums, and cinemas can increase the number of visitors once again. The government has suggested that vaccine passports will be encouraged in “high-risk” settings, however.
Vaccine intervals will be shortened
The UK’s vaccination effort has been the greatest weapon in the fight against coronavirus, and at time of press, more than 46 million people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, with almost 36 million residents fully vaccinated. The government plans to have every over-18 offered both jabs by September.
Travelling and holidays will also change
The biggest change here has already been forecast: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed that double-vaccinated Brits will be able to travel to amber-list countries without needing to quarantine upon their return. This will mean the rules for travel for amber-list travellers with two jabs will be near-identical to those for people returning from green-list territories: a Covid test before returning home, and another test within two days of returning to England. The rules for red-list countries remain stricter. See more about current travel restrictions here.
In other news, every UK adult is now able to book a Covid-19 vaccination.
Also published on Medium.