Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, said pandemic habits ‘would be really great to continue because it will keep Covid under control, but also other infections as well’
People should still follow basic Covid precautions when the bulk of lockdown curbs are lifted this month, one of Britain’s top doctors insisted today.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said he hoped to see good ‘habits’ learned during the pandemic stick around as the country learns to live with the virus.
He told BBC Breakfast this morning that people should continue to wash their hands frequently and avoid others and work from home when they feel unwell.
Not only will this tame Covid, it will also ‘keep other infections under control’, Professor Powis added.
There is no need for everyone to continue wearing face masks, but it would be ‘very appropriate’ for vulnerable and elderly people to do so, particularly if infection rates spike again.
Professor Powis’ comments come as the Government and its advisers try to prepare Britons for a post-lockdown world.
Boris Johnson is due to outline exactly what that will look like at a 5pm press conference today, where he’s expected to urge people to use their own judgement to manage the risk of Covid instead of relying on official rules.
Mandatory mask-wearing is expected to be ditched everywhere except in hospitals and other health facilities when the remaining curbs are lifted in England on July 19.
Mr Johnson will also confirm an end to the two metre social distancing rule, while pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at the bar for the first time since the pandemic began.
The announcement of the Freedom Day blueprint comes as infection rates continue to rise. Figures from Sunday show that 24,248 people tested positive for the virus, the highest number since January 26. But promisingly, the number of people going into hospital is still low and those dying within 28 days of a positive test has remained a fraction of this number, with just 15 deaths recorded yesterday
England’s original Freedom Day on June 21 was pushed back a month because of fears about the ultra-infectious Indian variant, which started spiralling out of control in May.
Infections have risen ten-fold in the past two months and there are now an average 25,000 people catching the virus every day.
But ministers have grown increasingly confident in the vaccines because deaths and hospitalisations have not spiralled at the same pace.
There are just over 300 Covid hospital admissions every day now — 10 times fewer than the last time infections were this high in February — and 17 daily deaths.
Time for the bar! From table service to working from home, those changing rules
Boris Johnson is to declare an end to most lockdown restrictions from July 19 today, with social distancing rules, the work from home order, and mask mandates to be ditched as he will argue that we must learn to live with coronavirus as we do with the flu.
The Prime Minister will use a press conference this afternoon to confirm a bonfire of virus rules and restrictions from the so-called Freedom Day later this month, in which he will say that individuals will again be able to judge the risks of coronavirus for themselves.
PUBS AND RESTAURANTS
Hospitality venues in England will no longer be required to collect track and trace data from July 19. Businesses won’t have to ask customers to scan a QR code using the NHS phone app on entry or to hand over their contact details, although they will have the option of continuing to do so if they wish. Mandatory table service rules will also be scrapped, meaning drinkers will be able to order at the bar again in pubs.
Wearing masks will become voluntary everywhere apart from hospitals and other health facilities from July 19 in England. Public transport passengers, shoppers and those visiting pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will no longer be required by law to cover up. However, people may still be encouraged to wear masks in some enclosed places where they come into close contact with each other, for example on London Tube trains.
Double-jabbed Britons will be allowed to enjoy a foreign break without having to isolate when they return to England. People who have had both vaccine doses will no longer have to quarantine for ten days after visiting amber list countries, such as Spain, France and Greece. It is possible the change to the travel rules will come into force on July 19, but Government sources last night cautioned that this date is seen as ‘ambitious’.
TEST AND TRACE
People in England who have received both coronavirus vaccine doses will no longer have to isolate at home for ten days if they have come into contact with someone who tests positive. They will be offered lateral flow tests to do themselves at home instead, although these will not be compulsory. The change could come into force on July 19, although the date has not yet been finalised.
The bubbles system that has seen whole classes or year groups sent home if just one pupil tests positive for coronavirus will be scrapped in England. Ministers are planning to announce a new way of handling outbreaks ready for the new school year in September. Instead of sending children home en masse, those who have come into contact with a positive case are likely to be given daily tests.
WORK FROM HOME
The official guidance telling people to ‘work from home if you can’ will be scrapped on July 19 in England. But it will be left up to employers and their staff to decide whether they have to go back to their desks. Ministers will not launch a campaign encouraging staff back to the office and are resigned to there not being a mass return to workplaces this summer.
Professor Powis agreed that it was time for restrictions to be lifted but urged people to continue to use their ‘common sense’ when it came to socialising.
Asked if he would still voluntarily wear a mask, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’ll be following the guidance as I have throughout.
‘There may be occasions in the next few months in a crowded environment where I might choose to wear a mask and I’m sure others will make similar choices.
‘I think people have gotten very aware of infection control and good hygiene over the last 16 months.
‘Some of the habits we’ve developed – washing hands more frequently, not going to work or not going to see people if you are feeling unwell – those are habits that it would be really great to continue because it will keep Covid under control, but also other infections as well.
‘Many people will use common sense and if they want to be cautious, particularly over the next few weeks as infection rates are still high, then wearing a mask would be very appropriate.’
He said cases will keep going up over the next few weeks and hospital admissions are expected to rise ‘modestly’.
‘But as I say, at the moment, things are looking very good.
‘The analysis that public health officials are doing show the effectiveness of the vaccine and that of course underlines the need to get as many people vaccinated as possible,’ he added.
Across the UK, nearly 45.3million people have had their first dose, while 33.6million have had their second.
Professor Powis said yesterday that the vaccines had ‘severely weakened’ the link between infections, hospital admissions and deaths.
Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which played a key role in developing AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab, also said today that he not stop wearing face coverings completely.
He told BBC 4’s Today programme: ‘I will continue to wear a mask in some situations, but I think again, it’s a question of what does the data show us when we get further through the year.’
Asked about whether the plans to ease restrictions in two weeks was a good idea, he said: ‘Well we don’t quite know what happens next and I think that uncertainty is why you are seeing debate between scientists about what the right thing to do is or not.
‘We are in a position at the moment where there are unvaccinated people in those risk groups, so the absolute priority is we need to make sure there’s access and we need to find out who those individuals are to protect them.
‘Because the virus is spreading in the community and will continue to do so. And the people at greatest risk over this summer is going to be anyone who is unvaccinated and in a risk group, so particularly older adults and those with other health conditions.’
Over the last few weeks, the Prime Minister and his ministers have repeated calls for the country to learn to live with Covid ‘as we already do with flu’.
Later today, Mr Johnson will announce plans to move the onus of Covid precautions onto individuals, rather than mandatory measures.
Robert Jenrick, Housing Secretary, told Sky News yesterday: ‘We are now going to move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions – the state won’t be telling you what to do – but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement.’
Under the blueprint, hospitality venues will no longer have to record track and trace information from customers, but can continue to do this if they choose to.
Customers will also be able to go to the bar to order, with strict table service measures coming to an end.
People returning from a holiday abroad in an amber country, who have received both jabs, may no longer have to isolate for 10 days.
Those who have had both vaccines may not need to isolate at home if they had contact with someone who has the virus.
But these changes to isolation rules may come into force after July 19.
Mr Johnson is also expected to outline a new approach to Covid in schools from the beginning of the school year in September.
The current approach has been criticised, with hundreds of thousands of pupils being forced to stay at home because just one classmate tests positive.
The Prime Minister will also announce a change to work from home rules, with companies being permitted to decide whether their staff will be returning to the office.
The announcement of the Freedom Day blueprint comes as infection rates continue to rise. Figures from Sunday show that 24,248 people tested positive for the virus, the highest number since January 26.
But the number of people dying within 28 days of a positive test has remained a fraction of this number, with just 15 deaths recorded yesterday.