All remaining lockdown restrictions in England will be lifted in a week despite a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday as he urged people to “proceed with caution” and continue to take steps to stay safe.
Johnson said although risks of the pandemic remain, legal restrictions will be replaced by a recommendation that people wear masks in crowded places such as public transit. Nightclubs and other venues with crowds should use vaccine passports for entry “as a matter of social responsibility,” he said.
“This pandemic is not over. This disease … continues to carry risks for you and your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday, July 19 to life as it was before COVID.”
The final stage of easing England’s lockdown means that all restrictions on social gatherings will be removed and physical distancing measures will be scrapped. Nightclubs can reopen for the first time since March 2020, and there will no longer be limits on people attending concerts, theatres, weddings or sports events.
WATCH | ‘Now is the right moment to proceed,’ says British PM:
Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was the right time to allow Britons a chance to return to normal life, and that the government’s decision balances the harms brought by COVID-19 and damage done by continued restrictions.
Javid told Parliament the successful vaccine rollout means that nine out of 10 adults in the U.K. now have antibodies against the virus. The government is on track to meet its target of offering all adults a first vaccine dose by July 19, the day when all remaining lockdown restrictions, including mandatory mask-wearing, are set to be lifted.
Javid said while new infections could reach 100,000 a day later in the summer, two doses of the vaccine offer effective protection against serious illness from the virus and officials believe the surge in cases will not put “unsustainable pressure” on hospitals. Waiting any longer to lift restrictions will risk having the virus spread peak in the winter, when hospitals are most likely to be overwhelmed, he said.
“There will never be a perfect time to take this step, because we simply cannot eradicate this virus — whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away,” he said.
Many of the recent infections have occurred among younger people, many of whom have yet to receive a first dose of vaccine. The government has no plans yet to offer vaccines to children under 18.
Jonathan Ashworth, the health spokesperson for the opposition Labour Party, said Javid’s plan was akin to “pushing his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seatbelts off.”
Public health officials and scientists have also been voicing concerns, saying ditching masks and physical distancing altogether could be dangerous.
Prof. Peter Openshaw, a member of a group that advises the government on new and emerging respiratory viruses, said it was vital to keep some protective measures in place, such as wearing masks.
“I really don’t see why people are reluctant to wear face coverings. It is quite clear that they do greatly reduce transmission,” he told BBC Radio. “Vaccines are fantastic but you have to give them time to work. And in the meantime, keeping up all those measures which we have learned to reduce the transmission is to me really vital.”
The British government, which enforced one of the longest lockdowns in the world, has lifted restrictions for England in a series of steps that began in March. The fourth and final stage was delayed last month to provide time for more people to be vaccinated amid the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following their own, broadly similar road maps out of lockdown.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 1:22 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | Adapting to rising vaccinations, fewer restrictions:
As of Monday evening, Canada had reported 1,421,127 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 5,142 considered active. The country’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 26,439. More than 42.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country, according to a CBC News tally.
In Ontario on Monday, health officials reported no new deaths and 114 new cases of COVID-19.
Quebec, meanwhile, on Monday reported one additional death and 199 new cases since Friday.
If COVID-19 cases are high, a digital passport could be used to screen unvaccinated people at bars, gyms and festivals this fall, Quebec health minister says<a href=”https://t.co/h2f7xFpTre”>https://t.co/h2f7xFpTre</a>
In the North on Monday, Yukon reported 19 new cases and one related death. An epidemiologist who has been watching the territory’s outbreak says that given Yukon’s high vaccination rate and strong public health track record, its current wave contains warnings for other areas of the country about where societal vulnerabilities lie.
There were no new cases reported in Nunavut, Premier Joe Savikataaq tweeted. Officials in Northwest Territories also reported zero new cases.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported one new case of COVID-19 Monday, while no new cases were reported in New Brunswick. Newfoundland and Labrador has not updated its numbers Monday, which is a government holiday. At last report, there were 16 active cases in the province.
In Prince Edward Island, some businesses say they were caught off guard when the province changed the wearing of masks in most indoor spaces from mandatory to recommended on Friday.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba updated its case count on Monday with 31 new cases and one additional death due to COVID-19. In Saskatchewan, officials reported zero new deaths and 19 new cases.
Alberta on Monday reported 90 new cases over three days and no deaths. British Columbia reported 123 new cases over three days, but said that number included a delayed data refresh and still had to be verified.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 9:45 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
WATCH | ‘What part of ‘This is a global crisis’ are we not getting?’ WHO director asks:
As of Monday evening, more than 187.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking coronavirus-related data from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than four million.
Rich countries should not be ordering booster shots for their vaccinated populations while other countries have yet to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization said on Monday. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said deaths were again rising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the delta variant was becoming dominant and many countries had yet to receive enough vaccine doses to protect their health workers.
“The delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths,” Tedros said, noting that the highly contagious variant had now been found in more than 104 countries.
“The global gap in COVID-19 vaccine supply is hugely uneven and inequitable. Some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses, before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable,” said Tedros.
In Europe, German officials said Monday said that authorities need a “broader focus” beyond the country’s infection rate to fully gauge the impact the pandemic is having on the health system and the kind of measures that should be taken.
“Because the at-risk groups are vaccinated, a high incidence doesn’t automatically mean an equally high burden on intensive care beds,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter. “The incidence is increasingly losing significance, we now need more detailed information on the situation in clinics.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, a nighttime curfew and other new coronavirus restrictions began Monday in Thailand’s capital and several other provinces, as health officials announced that medical workers will be given booster shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine after already receiving two doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine.
Thailand has been battling rising COVID-19 cases and deaths since April, worsened by the spread of the more contagious delta variant.
In Africa, Nigeria’s Lagos state faces a “potential third wave” of infections, its governor said in a statement.
In the Middle East, a top health official in Pakistan said Monday that authorities might summon troops to ensure that people do not violate physical distancing rules.
Israel said on Sunday it will begin offering a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine to adults with weak immune systems, but it was still weighing whether to make the booster available to the general public.
In the Americas, thousands of Cubans joined street protests on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades amid its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union and a record surge in COVID-19 cases.
Moderna Inc. said on Monday it had signed a supply agreement with the government of Argentina for 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine or its updated variant booster vaccine candidate. The company said delivery was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2022.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:15 p.m. ET
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