Yesterday the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health announced that England will proceed to step 4 of the Covid-19 road map next Monday 19th July.
As from the 19th most legal restrictions to control COVID-19 will be lifted, which means:
- You will not need to stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with. There will also be no limits on the number of people you can meet.
- However, in order to minimise risk at a time of high prevalence, you should limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with and increase close contact gradually. This includes minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts.
- Meet outdoors where possible and let fresh air into homes or other enclosed spaces.
- The Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. However, the Government expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer.
- The requirement to wear face coverings in law will be lifted. However, the Government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.
- There will no longer be limits on the number of people who can attend weddings, civil partnerships, funerals and other life events (including receptions and celebrations). There will be no requirement for table service at life events, or restrictions on singing or dancing. You should follow guidance for weddings and funerals to reduce risk and protect yourself and others.
- There will no longer be restrictions on group sizes for attending communal worship.
The Prime Minister and the Government’s medical advisors have stressed COVID-19 has not gone away, so it’s important to remember the actions you can take to keep yourself and others safe.
Everybody needs to continue to act carefully and remain cautious, and some key protections will remain in place, such as:
- testing when you have symptoms and targeted asymptomatic testing in education, high risk workplaces and to help people manage their personal risk.
- isolating when positive or when contacted by NHS Test and Trace. However, From 16 August, if you have been fully vaccinated you will be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate if you are a contact of a positive case. You will instead be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible. You will also be exempt from self-isolation from 16 August if you are under 18 and a contact of a positive case. As with adults, you will be advised whether a PCR test needs to be taken. If you are 18 years old you will be treated in the same way as under 18 year olds until 4 months after your 18th birthday, to allow you the opportunity to get fully vaccinated.
- People arriving from red list countries and for those people not fully vaccinated arriving from amber list countries will still have to quarantine.
- The Government are encouraging and supporting businesses and large events to use the NHS COVID Pass in high risk settings. The Government will work with organisations where people are likely to be in close proximity to others outside their household to encourage the use of this. If sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection, the Government will consider mandating certification in certain venues at a later date.
The experts are of the view that the four criteria for the relaxation rules set out in the Covid-19 Roadmap have, at present, been met. Below I set out these criteria and the Secretary of State’s explanation on how they have been met.
The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
“The first test is the success of our vaccination programme. Ever since 8 December last year, when the world’s first clinically authorised vaccine was given right here in the UK, we have been putting jobs in the arms of people at a phenomenal pace, giving over 18 million doses in just seven months. We have given more doses per capita than any other large nation. As a result, around nine in 10 adults in the UK now have covid-19 antibodies, which are so important in helping us and our bodies to fight this virus. To bolster this protective wall even further, we made the tough but necessary decision to take a four-week pause to step 4, so that we could protect even more people before easing restrictions. Since making the decision, we have been able to give 7 million extra doses across the UK. We have pledged that, by 19 July, we will have offered every adult a first dose of vaccine and given two doses to two thirds of all adults. I am pleased to inform the House today that we are on track to beat both of these targets, so as we make this crucial decision, we are in a stronger position than ever before.”
Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated –
“There is increasing evidence that the vaccine has severely weakened this link—a link that was once a grim inevitability. Data from Public Health England estimates that two doses of a covid-19 vaccine offer around 96% protection against hospitalisation, meaning fewer covid patients in hospital beds and fewer people mourning the loss of a loved one. The data also estimates that the vaccination programme in England has prevented between 7.5 million and 8.9 million infections. It has prevented some 46,000 hospitalisations and prevented about 30,000 people from losing their lives, all because of the protection that the vaccines can bring.”
Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
“I want to be open about what the data is telling us and why we have reached the decision that we have. Cases are rising, propelled by the new, more transmissible delta variant. The average number of daily cases is over 26,000, and this has doubled over the past 11 days. Sadly, the case numbers will get a lot worse before they get better. We could reach 100,000 cases a day later in the summer.
Hospitalisations are also rising, with sustained growth over the past month. Once again, they will rise too, but we should be encouraged that hospitalisations are far lower than they were at this point during the previous wave, just as we should be encouraged that people over the age of 65, who are more likely to have had both doses of a vaccine, made up 31% of covid admissions last week, compared with 61% in January. This is further evidence that our vaccination programme is doing its job and protecting the NHS. As more people get the jab, our protective wall is getting stronger still.”
The Government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.
“We have seen from the growth of the delta variant, which now makes up 99% of new cases in this country, just how quickly a new variant can take hold. However, although the delta variant is more transmissible than the alpha variant, the evidence shows that two doses of the vaccine appears to be just as effective against hospitalisation. But we know that the greatest risk to the progress we have made is the possibility of another new variant, especially one that can escape immunity and puncture the protective wall of out vaccination programme, so even as we look to ease restrictions, we will maintain our tough measures at the borders and we will expand our capacity for genomic sequencing, which is already one of the largest in the world, so that we can come down hard the moment we detect a new variant.”
The decision about how to vote on these matters is extremely difficult and is not something I take lightly. I am fully aware that these votes on the Covid-19 regulations will be some of the most important decisions I make as your Member of Parliament. My record shows I am not afraid to vote against the Government when I judge this is in the best interests of my constituency and my country.
My belief is there must become a point where we trust the efficacy of the vaccine and learn to live with Covid-19. There will never be a perfect time to lift restrictions, however Monday 19th would appear to be a reasonable option. It is supported by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, and the summer, in which respiratory diseases lose their advantage. Any further delay in lifting restrictions may pushing the virus towards winter, when the virus will have an advantage – this is a point made by Professor Chris Whitty.
With regards specifically to face coverings, I have publicly said that I would advise people to continue wearing masks in enclosed spaces and on public transport. I have also previously said the Government would be wise to consider reimposing a legal requirement to wear a mask if the data supported this.
I understand the concerns raised with me by the clinically extremely vulnerable. I recognise that the current guidance suggesting “Individuals may choose to limit the close contact they have with those they do not usually meet with” would be improved with greater clarity.
I have raised these concerns directly with the Secretary of State and will continue to seek more specific guidance.
As I have said before, we must be clear as to how society will learn to live with Covid going forward, especially over winter with the additional pressures the NHS typically faces at this time of year. We know all viruses mutate and no vaccine is 100% effective, and so a zero Covid policy and future extended lockdowns are likely to do more harm than benefit. I am therefore pleased to see serious consideration being put into how quickly Covid booster vaccines will be given, and the flu vaccine rollout being extended to more people. This is something I have asked the Secretary of State about in the House of Commons.
Finally, may I just urge everybody to book their vaccination. It is quick and easy to do online here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/ or on the phone by calling 119. If you are vaccinated, please encourage all your friends and family to book in their jab – it is the key to returning to normality, and more importantly the key to saving lives.