This week the Prime Minister announced that we would move the fourth and final step of the roadmap out of the lockdown restrictions. It means that from the 19 July, the remaining legal restrictions introduced to help tackle the Covid pandemic will be removed. This includes legal requirements on social distancing, mask wearing and final legal restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to meet in groups.
It is important that we exercise caution in order to try to dampen the spread of the virus over the next couple of months. We know that infection rates are rising sharply at the moment, especially among the young who have not been vaccinated but we also know that they are least affected and rarely develop any serious symptoms. The confidence to move to this final step comes from the fact that the vaccination programme has been a huge success and this has almost (but not quite) broken the link between infection rates and hospitalisation. If we can’t remove the legal restrictions now in the summer when the schools are on holiday, it is harder to see when we ever could. However, not everyone was vaccinated and the vaccine is not 100 percent effective so there will still be an increase in hospital admissions over the next eight weeks.
The move to Step four was delayed by four weeks to ensure that the maximum possible number of people could be vaccinated. Nearly 7 million vaccines have already been administered during this delay. By 19th July, over two thirds of adults will have received two doses and every adult will have been offered a first dose. All adults should take up the offer of two vaccine doses, to protect themselves and others against Covid-19. Thanks to the continued success of our historic vaccination programme, the link between infections and hospitalisations has been severely weakened, with an estimated 8.5 million infections and 30,000 deaths prevented in England alone.
Data from Public Health England suggests that one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 80% effective against hospitalisations with the Delta variant, increasing to 96% after two doses. The vaccination programme will continue, and all adults will be offered two doses by mid-September. Dependent on final JCVI advice the booster programme will begin from September, offering additional protection to the most vulnerable.
The change next week will be a huge relief to many, particularly those in the hospitality sector who can begin to return to more normal levels of service. From the 19th of July, all remaining closed businesses, and venues such as nightclubs will be able to reopen. All capacity limits at sporting, entertainment, or business events will be lifted. Venues such as pubs, restaurants and bars will no longer be required to provide table service or follow other social distancing rules.
While there are reasons to be cautious, there are also reasons to be hopeful and optimistic too. While the Government’s approach will remain vigilant as we seek to control the rate of infection, we will continue to take steps that can help get people back closer to life as normal as swiftly as possible.