England remains on course to lift all remaining lockdown restrictions on July 19th despite rising coronavirus cases, Boris Johnson said on Monday. The prime minister said the latest scientific data suggested that although restrictions would not be lifted on July 5th as some Conservative MPs hoped, an "irreversible" reopening two weeks later was on the cards.
“With every day that goes by it’s clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that we’re very likely to be in a position on July 19th to say that really is the terminus and we can go back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible,” he said.
Britain's new health secretary, Sajid Javid, told MPs he had spent his first day in the job crunching the data and he saw no reason to go beyond July 19th before lifting restrictions.
“Because in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid. We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it. We also know that people and businesses need certainty. So we want every step to be irreversible,” he said.
“The restrictions to our freedoms must come to an end. We owe it to the British people, who have sacrificed so much, to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.”
Scotland on Monday recorded its highest daily number of positive coronavirus tests since the pandemic began, with at least 3,285 confirmed cases in the previous 24 hours. There were 22,868 new cases across the UK, the highest daily figure since January, but just three deaths compared with 1,200 a day when case rates were as high in January.
Spain, Portugal and Malta announced new restrictions on British visitors, joining other EU member states in responding to the spread of the Delta variant. Malta, one of a handful of European destinations British tourists can visit without having to quarantine when they get home, said it would no longer admit anyone from Britain who had not been fully vaccinated for more than 14 days.
Portugal said unvaccinated visitors from Britain would have to quarantine for 14 days and Spain will require British visitors to be fully vaccinated or to show a negative PCR test. Hong Kong has banned all flights from Britain after classifying the country as "extremely high-risk".
Mr Johnson continued to face questions over his handling of Matt Hancock's resignation as health secretary last Saturday after he broke lockdown rules by kissing an aide in his office. The prime minister initially stood by Mr Hancock, and Downing Street said on Friday that Mr Johnson regarded the matter as closed.
During a campaign visit on Monday to Batley and Spen ahead of a byelection later this week, Mr Johnson suggested that he took swift action over the affair.
“I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic,” he said.
Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, accused the prime minister of attempting to cover up the fact that he refused to sack Mr Hancock and initially wanted him to remain a minister.
"Boris Johnson is trying to rewrite history because he didn't have the guts to sack Matt Hancock. A fish rots from the head down, and by failing to sack the former health secretary, Johnson proved he doesn't have the leadership qualities or judgment required to be prime minister," she said.