After more than a year under some form of restrictions, England enters a new phase of the pandemic on 19 July after the government lifted almost all remaining coronavirus rules.
Many of the what were seen as the most vital restrictions needed to stem the spread of Covid, including limits on social gatherings and mask wearing in indoor spaces, are no longer required under law.
However, the government’s decision to ease rules has been a controversial one, with the number of new cases reported across the country soaring and Imperial College London scientist Neil Ferguson warning it is “almost inevitable” daily infection rates will hit a record 100,000 within weeks.
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will miss the so-called “freedom day” altogether, after they were forced into self-isolation despite Number 10 initially claiming they would not be required to do so.
After contact with health secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus, the government said the prime minister and chancellor would not isolate as they were part of a ‘pilot scheme’ - where they will be tested daily instead of quarantining.
However, Mr Johnson was forced to reverse his plan less than three hours later after a public outrage over special treatment for ministers. “Its far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules,” he said in a video released following the U-turn.
But controversy aside, what rules will residents of England now have to abide by and which previous restrictions have been lifted?
What are the rules on masks from 19 July?
Nationwide regulations on mask-wearing are to be lifted, although there will be an “expectation” that the public continue to sport masks in confined spaces out of consideration for others.
Local transport authorities and airlines will also be able to set mask-wearing as a condition for travel but there will be no law requiring them to be worn.
Leaving the issue largely down to a matter of “personal choice” will be welcomed by some who have found them uncomfortable and by conservatives who have long considered the requirement an infringement of their civil liberties but it could cause tensions in workplaces where employees feel uncomfortable about having no more safeguarding measures in place.
What are the new rules on social distancing?
Social distancing rules will also be scrapped, meaning table service-only measures will no longer be necessary in pubs and restaurants and drinkers can once more order at the bar.
Sports stadiums and entertainment venues such as nightclubs, theatres and cinemas will be allowed to fully reopen with no cap on capacity and care homes will be reopened to visitors.
However, distancing will continue at ports and airports, where the one-metre plus rule will still apply for passenger safety.
What are the new rules on self-isolating?
The requirement to self-isolate for 10 days will remain in place for those who test positive for Covid-19 but those who have had both vaccine jabs will not have to quarantine when returning from an amber list holiday destination or, as of 16 August, automatically self-isolate if contacted by the NHS track and trace app.
Instead, they will be encouraged to take a PCR test to establish whether they themselves have contracted the virus, only after which might self-isolation be considered necessary.
What are the rules on working from home?
The requirement to work from home, where possible, will end, but employers are being encouraged to consult with their staff before issuing definite instructions.
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