Today, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will place English citizens at the center of an experiment that will give some indication of how well a highly populated country with surging cases of coronavirus copes when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
In Johnson’s favor, most of the UK’s adult population is now double vaccinated. However, while those vaccinations have cut the numbers of people suffering from severe illness and succumbing to the disease after more than 128,000 deaths, the number of cases is rising. There is also scant evidence that vaccines prevent the worst effects of long COVID-19 in those who become infected.
Despite Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the other, less populous nations of the UK also being highly vaccinated, it is only England that is taking this leap today.
As of today, almost all of the restrictions in England will be lifted. Mandatory mask wearing will be gone, limits on the numbers of people who can mix indoor or outdoor will end, social distancing will be limited to people who have tested positive for the virus and airports, and venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums will be free to open at full capacity.
If someone is pinged by the NHS coronavirus track-and-trace app, they will still need to self-isolate until August 16, at which point double-vaccinated people will be free to carry on as normal.
As cases continue to rise rapidly in England, the number of people told by the app to self-isolate is ballooning. In the week to July 7, 520,000 people received the alert, sparking worries about the program’s impact on the economy.
Even Johnson himself wasn’t spared by the track-and-trace scheme. The Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were alerted after coming into contact with the Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday.
Downing Street initially announced that instead of self-isolating, the two would take part in a “daily contact-testing pilot,” a scheme that is unavailable to the general public. However, just hours later and following public outrage, officials made a U-turn on the decision and said the two would self-isolate after all.
Boris Johnson insists that the success of the vaccine rollout means restrictions can be lifted despite rising cases.