Most social-distancing rules ended in England on Monday. Face masks are no longer mandatory in shops or on public transport, limits on gathering have gone, and the work-from-home guidance has ended.
Here, Irish Times readers living in England share their reactions to the lifting of restrictions, even while case numbers rise. If you would like to contribute, please do so in the form in this article.
Thomas O'Callaghan, London
In the weeks prior to this day, the arguments in favour of lifting Covid restrictions seemed reasonable. Cases were rising anyway with restaurants open. The night-time industry has been shuttered since March 2020, and without a successful summer this year much of it may be shuttered for good. More importantly, England is obviously too exhausted for another lockdown. But the day has come – and, faced with the reality of packed party dungeons across the country, it just seems ludicrous. I don't know the best alternative (a furlough extension, perhaps?), but at 26 years old, and after one jab, I just don't feel right being part of a social experiment in which the government expects me to get sick, maybe in a long-term way, for the economy. It's a bit scary. The absurdity of a prime minister urging caution while allowing the animalistic chaos of the Euro 2020 final shows how unleashed this all is, and how those worried are hostage to the madness.
Luke Prendergast, England
The so-called freedom day represents the exact opposite for me. It is surreal to witness the British government go ahead with the full easing of restrictions when case numbers are rapidly increasing, and the retail and restaurant sector is grappling with temporary closures due to the "pingdemic", where increasing numbers of staff are being forced to self-isolate after being told to do so by the NHS Covid app. While I understand people are naturally eager to get back to normal, this pandemic is far from over and unlikely to end anytime soon. Living with the virus can be achieved by maintaining a base level of carefully orchestrated restrictions. The current free-for-all seems likely to risk this progress. It does seem bizarre to me that people have such an issue with mask-wearing – there is no justifiable reason masks should not remain mandatory until further notice. I am hoping to travel home to Ireland later this summer to see family whom I have not seen in many months, and am increasingly wary this might be compromised by the irresponsible actions of an increasing minority. I am hoping people will treat this "freedom" with due care and attention, if not for themselves then for our exhausted frontline workers.
Michael Mc Donnell, London
As a youngish person – I’m in my mid-20s – I feel a bit indifferent to “freedom day”, as we already had the freedom to go to bars and restaurants before July 19th. I do feel it’s time to open up, as the vulnerable are jabbed, deaths/hospitalisations are low, and the vaccine is available to anyone over the age of 18 who wants it. We need to live with the virus, as constant lockdowns have harmed young people’s mental health as well as employment and career opportunities. I am double-jabbed, but because cases are still rising I will continue to wear my mask in busy indoor areas, to help protect others.
Conor Masterson, London
We're confused and sceptical here about the British government's plan to declare "freedom day" from Covid. The fiasco on Sunday about self-isolation at government level has not helped instil confidence. We are seeing an increase in cases locally of Covid, even among vaccinated people, and plan to keep our heads down and see what happens over the next month or so. Most shops and businesses are asking people to keep wearing masks despite the rule changes, and we plan to do so. We'd like to get back to Ireland with our kids at some stage during the summer, but things are still too uncertain to plan anything.
Emmet Healy, Manchester
On “freedom day” I walked to my local coffee shop first thing in the morning to be greeted by staff and customers all wearing masks. Considering cases are rising exponentially in greater Manchester, I can’t hide my relief that this was the case, and I hope it continues.
My husband and I won't be going out to restaurants etc because we've now been left to keep ourselves safe. It is extraordinarily hard to live under Boris Johnson's government: their lack of care for others is overwhelming
I’ve lived here 15 years and am so glad that we’re finally moving home next month. This government have thrown us off a two-levelled cliff, first with Brexit and now with “freedom day”. My husband and I are going to switch to using stronger masks and won’t be going out to restaurants etc because we’ve now been left to keep ourselves safe. It is extraordinarily hard to live under Boris Johnson’s government: their lack of care for others is overwhelming.
Paul Devaney, London
The irony of having a freedom day at a time when the spread of the virus here has reached levels so high that other countries are having to consider placing the UK on their banned travel list. That is a strange sort of freedom. Just another day in Tory Britain, where a caustic form of libertarianism rules above all. Wearing masks on public transport and in stores is a very small price to pay to ensure that the virus doesn't continue to spread and evolve into a variant that may become vaccine-resistant, and a small price to pay to help protect the 45 per cent of the population who are not yet fully vaccinated from the worst effects of the virus, including long Covid. Those arguments don't seem to matter here now. If people aren't dying, nobody seems to care that the growing cohort of living sick will place an immense burden on the NHS and potentially live with serious health consequences themselves, not to mention the delay to other treatments due to NHS staff being overworked or in self-isolation as close contacts. It is yet another baffling decision in 16 months of baffling decisions by this dreadful and hypocritical government. If you think people here will be sensible in exercising their new freedoms, just look at what happened during the latter stages of the Euros here in London. I expect we will be back in restrictions by end of the summer, which is extremely dispiriting given how close we came to having enough of the population vaccinated to emerge confidently and irreversibly from this pandemic.