Legal restrictions in England are officially being lifted today as the country shifts to a new way of operating in both business and daily life as Covid rules are relaxed.
Big changes have come into force across the country today, including new rules around mask-wearing, social distancing, and mass gatherings.
And predominantly late-night businesses such as nightclubs are also now permitted to reopen – following many months of closure.
Weddings can now go ahead without restrictions, you can order at the bar, festivals are back and crowds are returning to stadiums.
Initially, these restrictions were planned to come to an end in June – but were delayed to buy the NHS more time to vaccinate more people ahead of step four easing.
The easing comes as COVID case numbers reach their highest since the start of the year, currently averaging more than 42,000 per day.
Experts are predicting that case numbers could reach more than 200,000 per day in just a number of weeks amidst the unlocking.
There is some debate as to how the efficacy of the vaccines will hold up in the coming weeks, especially against variants such as the Delta and Beta, previously known as the Indian and South African varients.
1,200 scientists around the world on Friday signed a letter decrying England’s Covid unlocking as a threat to the world.
This was quickly followed by news over the weekend that key political figures Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak would all go into self-isolation after previously attempting to dodge existing rules as part of a pilot scheme (which would see them have totest every day, instead of staying at home).
Although many in the country are currently forced into self isolation due to the track and trace app, many others are waking up today to what they feel is a joyous occassion with mixed feelings across the board.
Irregardless, the easy of restrictions is still going ahead. Here is everything that’s changing from today, July 19.
Note the below guidance applies to England only.
Social distancing will end on July 19 / Image: Gustavo Fring via Pexels
What are the mandatory restrictions still staying in place?
- The need to self isolate if you test positive for coronavirus.
- The need to self isolate if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (thiswill end from 16 August for under-18s and those who have received a second Covid vaccination at least 10 days before the contact).
- Border restrictions will stay in place.
What are the new rules on masks?
- Masks are now, legally speaking, entirely voluntary – but the rhetoric around wearing them has toughened up as we approach the July 19 date.
- Ministers have said people will be “expected” to cover their faces in crowded indoor areas such as public transport and shops.
- Rail and transit operators can make mask use a condition of carriage, and West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin has said masks must be worn at bus stations after July 19.
- There is no basis in law for shop owners, even those who are clinically vulnerable, to bar the maskless. However, some English supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsburys have said they will still require their customers to wear masks whilst shopping.
What about guidance on working from home?
- All obligations for home working end today, however the official government view is that a gradual return to offices is both expected and recommended – meaning many of those who are able to work from home should still be able to do so over the summer. Ultimately, this is now at the discretion of the employer.
- Clinically vulnerable employees or those that have a compromised immune system no longer have a right to demand home working, even if their workplace is not socially distanced and colleagues do not wear masks, They are being encouraged to discuss these issues with their employer.
- In the coming days, six new pieces of advice regarding working guidance for different sectors is expected to be announced by government.
What is the guidance on mass gatherings and late night events as they return?
- Large events are being encouraged to introduce certifcation methods, such as asking guests to prove a second vaccination dose or a recent negative Covid test.
- Many nightclubs, artists and promoters are advocating that people take a lateral flow test before attending events to ensure they can be as safe as possible.
What enforcement is there in place for businesses that ignore the new rules?
- Essentially, none. Whilst certification is ‘encouraged’ there is no enforcement at play currently.
What further guidance can we expect in the coming days?
- A series of Sage and Spi-M papers from last week will be released on Monday or Tuesday, alongside a short document officially setting out what is changing from 19 July.
- Monday or Tuesday will see guidance released for the clinically vulnerable – but this is expeted to be quite limited, mostly regarding common sense things like meeting people outdoors and checking if they have been vaccinaated.
- Six sector-specific advices on returning to work are also expected to be released this week.
Feature image – Stephen Craven.