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    Johnson confirms lifting of Covid curbs; face masks ‘recommended’ in enclosed spaces

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on relaxing restrictions imposed on the country during the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic at a virtual press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room on July 12, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people on Monday to show caution when nearly all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in England next week, saying an increase in cases underlined that the pandemic was by no means over.

    England will from July 19 be the first nation in Britain to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance.

    However, the government recommended face coverings to be worn in “crowded and enclosed spaces, such as public transport, when mixing with people you don’t normally meet.”

    The government says the vaccination drive – one of the world’s fastest – has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death. But what was once billed as “freedom day” is now being treated with wariness by ministers after a new surge in cases and fears that there could be as many as 100,000 new infections a day over the summer.

    Johnson set a sombre tone, defending his decision to lift most of the remaining restrictions by saying the four conditions the government set itself had been met, but also warning the country that more people would die from the coronavirus.

    “We think now is the right moment to proceed…But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over,” he told a press conference.

    “To take these steps we must be cautious and must be vaccinated,” he said, adding that England would see “more hospitalisations and more deaths from Covid”.

    Johnson added: “I generally urge everyone to keep thinking of others and to consider the risks.”

    Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told parliament that people should still wear masks in crowded areas like on public transport and should only gradually move back to the workplace, and that the government would encourage businesses holding mass events to use health certification as a way to open up.

    Business welcomed the move, but also called on the government to offer clearer guidance. Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies still did not have the full picture they needed.

    “Business leaders aren’t public health experts and cannot be expected to know how best to operate when confusing and sometimes contradictory advice is coming from official sources,” she said.

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