Commuters were seen riding the Tube today without face coverings while others stuck to the old rules as ‘Freedom Day’ finally dawned and brought in a new jumble of rules governing their use.
Facemasks are no longer required by law, although official national guidance is to continue wearing them in crowded public places.
Yet they are still compulsory on the Tube thanks to a decision by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said he did not want to put transport users ‘at risk’ by allowing them to go unmasked.
Passengers can be thrown out if they refuse to cooperate, although fines will no longer be issued, Transport for London confirmed to MailOnline this morning.
Meanwhile, all the major supermarkets will continue asking customers to keep their nose and mouth covered, as will many offices and visitor attractions.
Mr Johnson has told Britons to ‘take personal responsibility’ and continue to wear them in ‘crowded’ spaces, as a spike in cases led him to add a note of caution to his previously triumphal rhetoric.
Large numbers of Tube passengers were pictured with faces uncovered this morning, despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to continue enforcing their use across the capital’s transport network
Mr Khan said he was ‘not prepared’ to put transport users in the capital ‘at risk’ by changing the rules, as Mr Johnson told Britons to ‘take personal responsibility’ and continue to wear them in ‘crowded’ spaces
Today the NHS launched a new scheme to encourage people to continue wearing face coverings despite it no longer being law.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the new campaign was not about being ‘pious’.
He told Times Radio today that the Not Too Much To Mask initiative was about people taking ‘sensible measures’ to reduce transmission such as wearing face coverings, meeting outdoors, keeping indoor areas well ventilated and getting vaccinated.
He added: ‘This campaign is not about calling people out or being pious, it’s just about saying to people ‘you are not alone, there are other people who are doing this’.
‘One of the most powerful things about a mask is it is a signal to fellow citizens you are showing concern for them.’
Polls have found that 60% of Britons are ‘nervous’ about final lockdown restrictions being lifted as cases soared 52% in a week to 48,161 and 25 more people died.
Yet today business leaders today urged Boris Johnson to go one step further and tackle the wave of NHS app notifications – branded the ‘pingdemic’ – which is bringing some businesses to the brink of collapse.
Experts estimated that around 1.8million people are still self-isolating after being notified by the Covid app or Test and Trace, although from today NHS workers will be exempted to tackle staff shortages.
The PM had yesterday declared he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak would take part in a pilot scheme to avoid quarantine after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for Covid.
Yet they will now go into self-isolation after being forced into a humiliating U-turn within just three hours following furious accusations of ‘one rule for them and another rule for everybody else’.
The row over cast a shadow over today’s Freedom Day relaxation, with Mike Cherry, of the Federation of Small Businesses, questioning why a system to avoid self-isolation was open to politicians.
‘Small firms have been struggling to get across mixed messaging regarding the reopening for weeks now, and this is no different,’ he said.
‘Thousands of small businesses will now be left wondering why the testing pilot is only open to those at the top of government and a handful of big corporates and organisations but not them.’
The CBI said there was an urgent need ‘to allow double-jabbed individuals not to self-isolate if they have been informed by NHS Test and Trace that they have come into contact with a Covid positive individual’.
The British Retail Consortium called for pinged store staff to be able to continue to work if they had a negative test result.
James Bielby of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors said: ‘Food supply chain workers are key workers and, unlike Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, their workplace doesn’t close down for the summer.
‘They’re needed not only to keep shelves and storerooms stocked, but also to drive the economic recovery of the hospitality sector which the Prime Minister and Chancellor are depending on.’
Writing in the Daily Mail, Tony Blair said the self-isolation system was ‘not rational’. Its chaotic results have led to hospitals postponing operations, factories cancelling shifts, disruption to rail services and fears of food shortages.
The boss of Marks and Spencer, Steve Rowe, warned a staff exodus could force the chain to reduce opening hours.
Last night the Government said that from today fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care workers who are a contact of a positive case would be allowed to work in exceptional circumstances.
They will have to take a PCR test and daily lateral flow tests for the duration of the period they would otherwise have been in isolation.
People queue outside Bar Fibre in Leeds after the lifting of Covid restrictions in England at midnight
Revellers get back on the dancefloor at Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle at the stroke of midnight, wasting no time to enjoy their first taste of clubbing since last March
Pingdemic pass for NHS staff: Ministers issue new rules for health workers to dodge self-isolation
Critical frontline NHS and social care staff will be able to avoid self-isolation to go to work from today if they are double-jabbed, the Government announced last night.
Ministers were under intense pressure to intervene as the ‘pingdemic’ took its toll on hospitals, with some forced to call off operations because of staff shortages.
Healthcare workers who have been in contact with a positive case will now, in exceptional circumstances, be able to return to work after they have had a negative PCR test. They must then take daily lateral flow tests, and should wear PPE properly throughout their day at work.
It will apply to staff who have either been ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
Staff who are permitted to go to work will remain under a legal duty to self-isolate as a close contact but will be considered to have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to attend work if their absence could result in harm.
Decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis and only after a risk assessment by the organisation’s management, the Government said.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last night: ‘As we learn to live with this virus, it’s important that we ensure frontline staff can keep providing the best possible care and support to people up and down the country.
‘The Government has backed healthcare services at every turn through this global pandemic and these new rules will fortify our collective defences against this awful virus, by allowing fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff to continue to work when needed.’
UK Health Security Agency chief executive Jenny Harries said it was ‘imperative that we do everything we can to manage this virus and support our NHS and social care services under the strain of increased demand and sustained pressure’ amid rising cases. ‘We have provided specific guidance to NHS and social care settings for circumstances where there is a significant risk to health or safety resulting from staff absence or a critical service cannot run.
‘This measure only applies to double-vaccinated staff, who will only be able to attend work after testing negative on PCR and daily lateral flow tests, and following a risk assessment and the supervision of the health service.’
Several hospital trusts have hundreds of staff isolating at any one time. This has led to operations being cancelled in Leeds, Birmingham and in the North East.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham has postponed planned surgery for two days. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the loss of staff is having a ‘significant impact’. He added: ‘We absolutely know it’s contributing in some places to trusts having to reduce the amounts of elective surgery they’re doing.’
Last week the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine issued a call to exempt double-jabbed NHS staff from isolation over close contacts.
‘The risk of patients contracting Covid from vaccinated healthcare staff is minimal compared to the damage patients could suffer by having their treatment delayed,’ they said.
It came as revellers packed into nightclubs for the first time since March 2020, without being required to provide Covid passports or negative test results.
And with social distancing rules shelved, there are no limits on people attending.
Venues including Fabric, E1, Ministry of Sound and Egg nightclubs in London, Pryzm in Bristol, Powerhouse Night Club in Newcastle and Moon Acre in Dorset re-opened on the stroke of midnight – the very second that most legal restrictions on social contact were removed.
It’s ‘the moment we’ve been waiting for, that our customers have been waiting for,’ said Tristan Moffat, operations director of London music venue The Piano Works, ahead of the deadline.
The business had been keen to open its doors again after losing about £40,000 a month during the pandemic, he said.
Its ‘Freedom Day’ bash started on Sunday with a countdown to midnight when staff members cut a ribbon to the dance floor and served customers free prosecco.
But while entertainment businesses and ravers are now jubilant, many others are deeply worried about the British government’s decision to go ahead with fully reopening the economy and no longer mandating masks at a time when Covid-19 cases are on a rapid upswing.
In a study carried out by YouGov, which questioned 3,659 adults between July 5 and July 15, 73 per cent of English people who used to go to nightclubs in pre-pandemic times said that they would not currently feel comfortable returning after the restrictions lifted.
The grand re-opening has come as Covid cases across the UK soared by 52 per cent week-on-week after yesterday recording 48,161 new cases – up from the 31,772 cases recorded last Sunday – with a further 25 deaths..
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the move in a video message on Sunday during which he said: ‘If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it. So this is the right moment.
‘But we’ve got to do it cautiously. We’ve got to remember that this virus is sadly still out there. Cases are rising, we can see the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant.
‘But we have this immense consolation and satisfaction that there is no doubt at all that the vaccine programme – the massive vaccination programme – has very severely weakened the link between infection and hospitalisation, and between infection and serious illness and death.
‘So please, please, please be cautious and go forward tomorrow into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people and the risks that the disease continues to present.’
Partygoers queuing for the Viaduct Bar in Leeds after the final legal coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England at midnight
Huge queues of revellers waited to enter Grey’s nightclub on Grey Street in Newcastle as it threw open its doors on the stroke of midnight
Pictured: People queued up for the Egg nightclub in London after the final legal coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England at midnight
Thousands of eager revellers across England have piled onto dance floors for the first time since March last year. Pictured: Partygoers in Newcastle
The grand re-opening has come as Covid cases across the UK soared by 52 per cent week-on-week. Pictured: Revellers get back on the dancefloor at Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle
In Brighton clubbers queued around the corner to get into Pryzm nightclub as it opened at 00.01 this morning – for the first time in 16 months
The easing of restrictions coincides with a dramatic update in the number of people self-isolating at home after being pinged by the Covid app.
The Adam Smith Institute yesterday estimated more than 1.7million people were being forced to stay at home across the UK and warned the figure could reach 5.2 million in a month.
A senior Tory said: ‘They ought to have said last week that ‘We’re bringing the August 16 date [on easing the isolation rules] forward so that people who are double vaccinated and have a negative test can go out and do as they please’.
‘If they’d done that, the Prime Minister wouldn’t be having to self-isolate now.’
Mr Johnson yesterday admitted in a video posted from isolation at his official country residence Chequers that it was ‘far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules’.
And he begged for caution amid warnings from scientists that cases could reach 200,000 a day before the current wave of the virus peaks.
Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former adviser, suggested he had been ‘forced to U-turn’ on self-isolation by the Chancellor. Downing Street denied the claims, but came under friendly fire from insiders.
A well-placed source said: ‘This has been a classic shambolic situation where decisions are taken without being properly discussed or considered, so we just lurch from one plan to another.
‘I’m a little bit worried we’re just blindly walking into a very similar situation that saw the PM end up in hospital last year because people think they’re too important or invincible for the rules to apply.’
A senior Tory MP said: ‘It is appalling that such basic mistakes are being made which simply serve to send out the message of one rule for the public and another rule for us. They need to start looking at themselves rather than everyone else.’
Social distancing, working from home, masks in shops and on public transport: What IS and what IS NOT changing on Freedom Day
By William Cole for MailOnline
People in England emerge from lockdown today with the government’s final major easing of restrictions.
Here, MailOnline looks at the rules that are changing and what guidance has been issued to replace it in some areas:
Legal rules mandating the wearing of face masks will be axed.
However, despite ministers previously saying they want to ditch coverings as soon as they are voluntary, guidance will state that they are ‘expected and recommended’ in crowded spaces.
Guidance published last night said: ‘Government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.’
London‘s Mayor Sadiq Khan has broken rank to ordered they be kept compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis. He was backed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who said he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.
Regional leaders such as Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have also said the restrictions would stay on transport in his city.
Private companies will be allowed to make them a requirement for entry, as Ryanair has already announced on its flights.
An ONS survey this week found that nearly two thirds of adults will continue to wear masks in shops and on public transport.
Passengers on the London underground and several other train lines Will still have to wear masks unless exempt – after bosses defied the government’s change to the law by putting in place their own guidance
GOING TO PUBS
It will no longer be a legal requirement to scan a QR code on entry to a venue as part of the test and trace system. However, venues will be allowed to make use of the codes a requirement for entry if they choose.
It will also no longer be a legal requirement for pubs to require customers to order drinks at their tables.
However, some pub chains may continue this – meaning that people will still not be able to go to the bar if an individual pub bans it.
SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES
The one-metre rule will be scrapped in law – meaning fewer Perspex screens in offices.
It also means hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants won’t have to limit customers to ensure they are spaced apart.
But people are now being strongly advised to ‘minimise the number, proximity and duration of social contacts’.
Chris Whitty even suggested that people should avoid ‘unnecessary meetings’ – and said everyone should continue to abide by ‘hands, face, space’.
However, the one-metre rule will continue to be enforced at borders, such as in airports, amid concern over people coming into the country with variants.
Social distancing rules in pubs and restaurants will be scrapped from today. The change will mean many businesses that were too small to open before will finally be able to open their doors (stock photo)
There had been hopes that the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate for up to 10 days when they are ‘pinged’ for coming in contact with a positive case would be dropped from July 19.
However, that date was pushed back to August 16 by Health Secretary Sajid Javid amid concerns about fueling rising infection numbers.
The rules on self-isolation for those who have not had two doses are staying in place for the time being.
However, officials are working on ways of making the NHS app less sensitive to avoid millions of people being doomed to house arrest.
And ministers have said work is ongoing on a system of daily testing that could potentially replace the self-isolation regime.
The governments ‘work from home’ message will be scrapped, but replaced with advice that any return to offices should be ‘gradual’ over the summer while cases are high
WORKING FROM HOME
The Government’s ‘work from home’ message will end and employers will be able to start to plan a return to workplaces, some having been empty since last March.
But the decision of course is still be up to individual employers.
Some may decide to continue with working from home for the foreseeable future, although city centre businesses such as cafes and retail have been hugely affected by the lack of office workers.
Government advice will also be that any return to offices should be ‘gradual’ over the summer while cases are high.
The guidance states: ‘Whilst government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, government would expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer.’
Although guidance to employers will be slimmed down, it will still encourage them to ensure rooms are properly ventilated to minimise risk.
CAP ON CARE HOME VISITS
The current restriction that people can only be seen by five named visitors will be scrapped.
But strict infection-control measures – such as the wearing of PPE and regular cleaning – will continue, with more detail to be announced later.
Restrictions on festivals and other large outdoor events will also end, meaning Reading and Leeds and the Isle of Wight festival (pictured, 2017) will be allowed to go ahead later this year
Covid status certification – so-called vaccine passports – will not be legally required within England.
It is being left up to individual venues to decide themselves whether to demand Covid status certification through the NHS App as a condition of entry.
The government is ‘encouraging’ the use of Covid certification for large events.
Owners of busy indoor venues such as nightclubs and busy city-centre bars have been told to consider bringing in the passports.
The government will ‘encourage’ businesses and large events to use the NHS Covid Pass in ‘high risk settings’ – that is, where people are likely to be in ‘close proximity to others outside their household’.
Few details have been given, but the guidance could cover theatres, cinemas, indoor concerts and exhibitions. The government many consider mandating certification in certain venues at a later date.
A new system to allow double-jabbed people to avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries will come into force from July 19 – with one big exception.
A government U-turn announced on Friday night now means that even vaccinated Brits returning from France will have to quarantine – sparking fury as families were forced to cancel trips to France at the last-minute.
From today, double-jabbed people can avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries. However, travellers from France, where there is a large number of Beta variant cases, will not be part of the rule relaxation
RULE OF SIX
There will be no legal limits on social contact, meaning groups will not have to limit themselves to six people or two households if they are mixing indoors.
Groups outdoors can be as large as people want them to be.
WEDDING AND FUNERAL CAP
The limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and other major life events are being scrapped.
Covid cases across the UK have soared by 52 per cent week-on-week, but the number of deaths has fallen slightly
Last week 26 people were recorded as having died from Covid, while figures released today showed 25 people had died of Covid in the last 24 hours
This week’s figures show 740 patients had been admitted with Covid on July 13, and 4,313 in the week to that date
ART AND SPORT VENUE LIMITS
There will be no more restrictions on the size of an audience at a concert or a show, or a crowd at a sports fixture, which means theatres and stadiums can run at full capacity.
All other legal requirements for venues to close will be lifted, allowing night-time industries – including nightclubs – to reopen for the first time since the pandemic began.
No restrictions on singing, or even guidance to restrict it. It means singing by church choirs can continue – as can karaoke nights.