Boris Johnson and his new Health Secretary Sajid Javid have confirmed their intention for July 19 to mark the end of England’s lockdown restrictions.
Mr Javid resisted pressure from Tory MPs to bring forward the date of Step 4 of the road map, but he said there was “no reason” why the July 19 deadline would not be met.
The Prime Minister signalled that the “terminus” date would mean going “back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible”.
In his first Commons statement since replacing Matt Hancock, Mr Javid told MPs: “There remains a big task ahead of us to restore our freedoms – freedoms that, save for the greatest of circumstances, no government should ever wish to curtail.
“So my task is to help return the economic and cultural life that makes this country so great while of course protecting life and our NHS.”
Mr Javid said he spent his first day in the new job on Sunday looking at the coronavirus data and “testing it to the limit”.
When “freedom day” was delayed from June 21, a review was announced which could have seen restrictions eased on July 5 – something that ministers have now rejected.
Mr Javid said: “While we decided not to bring forward Step 4, we see no reason to go beyond July 19, because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid.
“We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it.”
Mr Javid’s statement came as:
– Government figures up to June 27 showed 44,454,511 people have received a first dose of vaccine – a rise of 139,712 on the previous day – while 32,583,746 have received both doses, an increase of 123,555.
– As of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 22,868 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the highest daily rise since January 30, although Public Health England said the total included some cases which had not been included in Sunday’s figures due to a technical issue.
– A further three people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total by that measure to 128,103.
– Portugal, Spain, Malta and Hong Kong announced new restrictions on UK tourists amid growing concern over the Delta variant.
– Research suggested that mixing doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines generates a robust immune response against coronavirus.
– Tennis fans at Wimbledon gave a standing ovation to Oxford vaccine pioneer Dame Sarah Gilbert and other inspirational individuals for their efforts during the pandemic on the first day of the championship.
Mr Javid told MPs that while Mr Johnson viewed July 19 as the “terminus date” it was “not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country”.
But he stopped short of confirming that every single remaining restriction would be scrapped on that date.
“It is absolutely our intention to have Step 4 commence on July 19 and remove restrictions and start returning to normal,” he said.
In response to Tory MP Lucy Allan, who challenged him to say that all restrictions would be removed, Mr Javid said: “She has asked me specifically about ‘all restrictions’ or which restrictions – that is certainly our intention to remove restrictions but as we follow the data in coming days we will set out more in due course.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson said it was “set fair” for July 19 to mark the end of the road map.
On a campaign visit in Batley, he said it was “sensible to stick to our plan to have a cautious but irreversible approach”, using the next three weeks to complete the vaccine rollout “as much as we can”, with another five million jabs expected to be administered by July 19.
“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,” the Prime Minister said.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth suggested Mr Javid should not be so confident, warning that the Government risked more people catching coronavirus and developing long Covid if restrictions were lifted while cases were still high.
“We’ve seen around 84,000 cases in the last week, an increase of around 61%. Today we’ve seen the highest case rate since January.
“If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 40,000 cases a day by July 19.
“That will mean more long Covid… that will mean more disruption to schooling, for some it will mean hospitalisation and we know that even after two doses, you can catch and transmit the virus.
“So what is he going to do to push infections down? Vaccinations will do it eventually but not in the next four weeks.”