Javid warns UK has to learn to live with Covid but 19 July will be start of ‘exciting new journey’

Health secretary says ‘we owe it to the British people… not to wait a moment longer than we need to’

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Tuesday 29 June 2021 09:09
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Javid confirms July 19 as date for England’s lockdown restrictions to end

New health secretary Sajid Javid has warned the UK will have to learn to live with Covid as he said he was confident lockdown restrictions in England could be lifted on 19 July.

The date would mark “not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country,” he said.

In his first official appearance in his new role, he told MPs that ministers see no reason to delay beyond the middle of next month, adding: “We owe it to the British people … not to wait a moment longer than we need to.”

But under questioning from MPs from his own party he did not commit to removing all existing pandemic rules in July.

Instead, he said it was the government’s intention to “commence” Step 4 of its roadmap out of lockdown on 19 July and “start returning to normal”.

“While we decided not to bring forward Step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July, because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid,” he said.

“We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it.”

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Asked if all restrictions would be removed, he said it was the intention “to remove restrictions, but as we follow the data in the coming days, we will set out more in due course.”

His comments appeared to echo those of Boris Johnson who said the UK was likely to be in a position to declare 19 July the “terminus and we can go back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible”.

Earlier this month a leaked document, seen by the Politico website, suggested that face masks and guidance to work from home could remain in place even after 19 July.

But ministers are under increasing pressure from Tory MPs to scrap all remaining restrictions on what has been dubbed by some as “freedom day”.

Step 4 is the final step in Mr Johnson’s roadmap back to normality. But it has already been delayed once after a surge in cases of the Delta variant, first identified in India.

Mr Javid made his announcement as official figures showed another 22,868 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the highest daily rise since 30 January.

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However, the daily death toll was much smaller than in the first month of the year, with statistics showing three people had died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, bringing the UK total to 128,103.

New figures also showed 44,454,511 people have received a first dose of vaccine, up 139,712 on the previous day, while 32,583,746 have had both doses, up 123,555.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth warned Mr Javid that ministers would place more people at risk of developing debilitating “long Covid” symptoms if restrictions were lifted while case numbers remained so high.

“We’ve seen around 84,000 cases in the last week, an increase of around 61 per cent,” he said. “Today we’ve seen the highest case rate since January.

“If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 40,000 cases a day by 19 July.

“That will mean more long Covid... that will mean more disruption to schooling, for some it will mean hospitalisation and we know that even after two doses, you can catch and transmit the virus.

“So what is he going to do to push infections down? Vaccinations will do it eventually but not in the next four weeks.”

The health secretary has also pledged to look again at coronavirus measures in schools, after thousands of pupils were told to self-isolate. Working parents across the country are struggling as entire class “bubbles” are sent home, often for up to 10 days, after a contact tests positive for the virus.

Mr Javid made the pledge as he came under pressure from Tory MPs who urged him to recognise that children had “suffered enough” during the pandemic.

Mr Javid, who only took the job on Saturday night after his predecessor Matt Hancock resigned following an admission he broke lockdown restrictions to carry out an affair, said he hoped to make an announcement on schools “as soon as possible”.

He is understood to be studying a trial currently being carried out in some schools, which attempts to use regular Covid tests, instead of sending young people home to self-isolate, to limit the spread of the disease.

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