New Delhi: The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday while announcing that legally the lockdown restrictions have come to an end in England – he dubbed Freedom Day – he warned of the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant of coronavirus, which continues to keep the infection rate in the country at very high levels.
Boris Johnson himself remains in self-isolation after coming in contact with UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’ve been asked to self-isolate by the Test, Trace and Isolate system after I’ve been in contact with somebody who has COVID, in this case, of course, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid,” Johnson was quoted by PTI.
As of Monday, face masks are no longer legally required in England, and with social distancing rules shelved, there are no limits on the number of people attending theater performances or big events.
Under Step Four of the government’s four-step roadmap to end lockdown, COVID restrictions have now been replaced with guidance emphasising personal judgement and responsibility on face masks in indoor settings and caution in large gatherings.
He reiterated the message for everyone to come forward for their first or second doses, as the massive National Health Service (NHS) vaccination programme has very severely weakened the link between infection, hospitalisation and death.
He also used his video to clarify Sunday’s U-turn by him and UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who first announced they would be taking part in a pilot scheme to be able to continue working from Downing Street despite being contacted by NHS Test and Trace system to self-isolate following Javid’s positive COVID-19 test.
We did look briefly at the idea of us taking part in the pilot scheme, which allows people to test daily, but I think it’s far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules and that’s why I’m going to be self-isolating until Monday 26th July, he said.
Other Cabinet ministers and officials who have also been contacted by the NHS system since Javid’s own self-isolation with mild symptoms of COVID-19 are also said to be in quarantine now. It has led to businesses voicing concerns over what is being branded a pandemic, where vaccinated people are forced to self-isolate for 10 days after coming in contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19.
Ministers are being urged to bring forward the August 16 timeline for such cases to be able to get back to work following a negative COVID-19 test.
The government has already made an exemption for double vaccinated frontline medical staff and care workers to be able to get back to work following a negative test if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
“The government has backed healthcare services at every turn through this global pandemic and these new rules will fortify our collective defences against this awful virus, by allowing fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff to continue to work when needed, said Javid.
But while entertainment businesses and ravers are jubilant, many others are deeply worried about the British government’s decision to scrap restrictions at a time when COVID-19 cases are on a rapid upswing due to the highly infectious delta variant first identified in India.
The Opposition Labour Party has raised concerns over the removal of legal mask requirements and the recommendation to work from home where possible as “reckless” and warned of a “day of chaos” on the transport network as people returned to offices after months away.
Meanwhile, in England, there were long queues outside nightclubs as they opened at midnight taking advantage of the new rules. Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester.
‘I think it’s really a degree of how bad it’s going to be’. Tang said nightclubs, in particular, are potent spreading grounds. He said their core customer base people 18 to 25 is not fully vaccinated. They’re not masking. They’re in very close contact, heavily breathing, shouting very loudly to the music, dancing with different people. That’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants, he said. The government wants nightclubs and other crowded venues to check whether customers have been vaccinated, have a negative test result or have recovered from the disease.
The end of restrictions in England on Monday is a critical moment in Britain’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 128,000 people nationwide, the highest death toll in Europe after Russia. Almost 88 per cent of adults in the UK have had the first dose of a COVID vaccine, and 68.3 per cent have had both, raising hopes that the infections will not lead to a rapid rise in hospitalisations and death.
Other parts of the United Kingdom have varying degrees of lockdown easing rules, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all still following mandatory face masks and limited household mixing rules.
(With agency inputs.)