Boris Johnson has urged caution as England today is freed from social distancing restrictions for the first time in 16 months.
The Prime Minister also outlined once again his five-point plan for how the country will live with Covid-19, which includes reducing the time between vaccines, keeping the Test and Trace regime in place and the maintenance of border controls.
Johnson will be spending his so-called freedom day tomorrow in self-isolation at Chequers, after being in close contact with Covid-positive Sajid Javid.
His self-isolation only came after he and Rishi Sunak both announced this morning that they would be skipping the period as a part of a trial.
This attracted extreme backlash and the pair were forced to U-turn just two-and-a-half hours later.
Johnson said in a video statement today that “I think it’s far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules and that’s why I’m going to be self-isolating until Monday 26 July”.
“I know how frustrating it is but I really do urge everybody to stick with the programme and take the appropriate course of action when you’re asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace,” he said.
“The reason for that is we’re going tomorrow into Step 4 and we’re doing a big opening up, and that’s quite right.
“If we don’t do it now we’ll be opening up in the autumn and winter months when the virus has the advantage of the cold weather. We’ll lose the precious firebreak we get with the school holidays.”
Freedom day comes as Covid cases numbers are around 50,000 a day, with the peak of this wave expected to be at least 100,000.
The government argues that the amount of people double vaccinated, more than two-thirds of adults, will protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed.
However, former Sage scientist Professor Neil Ferguson has predicted that hospitalisations could reach 1,000 a day soon and that England could see restrictions re-imposed during winter.
“It’s going to be a difficult summer for many reasons…I think case numbers are likely to be declining at least by late September, even in the the worst-case scenario,” he told the BBC.
“Going into the the winter, I think we will have quite quite a high degree of immunity against Covid, the real concerns are a resurgence of influenza, because we haven’t had any influenza for 18 months.”
More than 500,000 self-isolation alerts were sent out to NHS Test and Trace apps in England over the past seven days as Covid cases continued to surge – a 46 per cent weekly rise.
It is expected that higher case numbers will lead to millions of people being told to self-isolate in the coming weeks, potentially creating a serious shortage of workers in many sectors.
British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said “something’s got to give” or “we will see some more critical impacts over the coming days and weeks”.