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British Prime Minister says restrictions to ease, UK must live with virus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says people in England will no longer be required by law to wear face masks in indoor public spaces and to keep at least 1 meter (3 feet) apart as soon as later this month.

Posted: Jul 5, 2021 3:34 PM

LONDON (AP) — Britain plans to scrap laws requiring face masks and social distancing later this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday, even as he acknowledged that lifting the restrictions will drive surging coronavirus cases higher.

Johnson said legal controls will be replaced by “personal responsibility” when the country moves to the final stage of its lockdown-lifting roadmap. That's scheduled to happen on July 19, though Johnson said a final decision would come on July 12.

The change will mean people can throw away masks after months of enforced face-covering, though they will still be recommended in some enclosed spaces such as public transport.

The removal of social distancing rules will allow nightclubs to reopen for the first time in 16 months, and people to once again order drinks at the bar in a pub. No longer will customers have to scan a phone app to provide their contact details when entering a venue.

The government will also stop instructing people to work from home if they can, leaving employers free to bring staff back to offices.

Britain has recorded more than 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the second-highest toll in Europe after Russia, and infections are rising due to the highly transmissible delta variant, which was first found in India. Confirmed cases have shot up from about 2,000 a day earlier this year to 25,000 a day in the past week. But the number of deaths is broadly stable, at fewer than 20 a day.

Public health officials say Britain’s vaccination program has weakened the link between infections and deaths, though not severed it. So far, 86% of U.K. adults have received at least one vaccine dose and 64% are fully vaccinated. The government aims to give everyone over 18 both shots by mid-September.

Johnson said Britain would have to “learn to live with this virus” — a major shift in tone from a leader who has previously painted COVID-19 as an enemy to be vanquished.

“I want to stress from the outset that this pandemic is far from over,” he said Monday, predicting that cases could hit 50,000 a day by July 19. “We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID.”

But, he said, “if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves ‘when will we be able to return to normal?’”

That message was welcomed by lockdown-skeptic lawmakers in Johnson’s governing Conservative Party, who say the economic and social damage of such long-lasting virus restrictions outweighs the public health benefits, and Britain’s populist press, which have dubbed July 19 “freedom day.”

Performing arts and hospitality businesses also welcomed the announcement. Mark Davyd, chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, tweeted: “I feel oddly numb, like I almost can’t believe it. Lots of work to do, but we might actually have made it through.”

But public health officials and scientists urged caution, saying ditching masks and social distancing altogether could be dangerous. Psychologist Stephen Reicher, a member of the government’s scientific advisory committee, said “proportionate mitigations” against the spread of the virus, such as masks in crowded places, should stay in place.

Johnson said he would “obviously wear a mask in crowded places … simply as a matter of personal courtesy.”

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 with reopening schools 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.

The changes announced by Johnson apply in England. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following their own, broadly similar, roadmaps out of lockdown.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the government was being “reckless.”

“A balanced approach, a proper plan, would say keep key protections,” he said. “One of them would be masks in enclosed places and on public transport — that’s a commonsense position. More ventilation, that’s happening in other countries, is absolutely essential and proper payments for those that need to self-isolate.”

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it made sense to ease restrictions in the summer, when schools are closed, people spend more time outdoors and other respiratory infections are at a low level.

“The disease burden associated with a larger peak during the summer would likely be less than one during the winter,” Hunter said.

But Richard Tedder, a virologist at Imperial College London, said easing up while infections are still rampant “comes with the very real risk of facilitating the escape of variants which will be even more resistant to vaccines and potentially more infectious.

“Failing to recognize this is playing with fire,” he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
Pearl River8569208
Lafayette8008136
Hancock7110107
Oktibbeha6764117
Washington6756146
Neshoba6350200
Monroe6304156
Warren6267159
Panola6036122
Pontotoc599292
Bolivar5960143
Marshall5917115
Union558885
Pike5424133
Lincoln5192127
Alcorn509388
George454766
Scott447392
Leflore4377138
Tippah431780
Itawamba429192
Prentiss429074
Copiah423883
Simpson4238108
Wayne419663
Tate418999
Adams4174109
Yazoo411486
Sunflower4057104
Covington404891
Marion399699
Leake389784
Coahoma385996
Newton360273
Grenada3489100
Stone342657
Tishomingo320987
Attala318285
Jasper308261
Winston298191
Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
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