TUESDAY, July 6, 2021 (Healthday News) -- Face mask and social distancing laws will be lifted in Britain later this month and British citizens will have to "learn to live with the virus," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday.
The lifting of government controls is set to start on July 19, but a final decision will come on July 12, Johnson said. The government will also stop telling people to work from home if they can, the Associated Press reported.
"I want to stress from the outset that this pandemic is far from over," he said, predicting that cases could hit 50,000 a day by July 19, the AP reported. "We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID."
But, "if we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves 'when will we be able to return to normal?'" he said.
While certain groups -- including hospitality and performing arts businesses -- welcomed the announcement, public health officials and scientists warned that removing all mask and social distancing rules could be dangerous.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Britain have increased from about 2,000 a day earlier this year to 25,000 a day in the past week, thanks largely to the emergence of the Delta variant that first surfaced in India this past spring, the AP reported. But the number of deaths has stayed stable, at fewer than 20 a day
Easing restrictions now "comes with the very real risk of facilitating the escape of variants which will be even more resistant to vaccines and potentially more infectious," Richard Tedder, a virologist at Imperial College London, told the AP.
"Failing to recognize this is playing with fire," he said.
Still, public health officials say Britain's vaccination program has weakened the link between infections and deaths, the AP said. So far, 86% of U.K. adults have received at least one vaccine dose and 64% are fully vaccinated. The government aims to give everyone over 18 both shots by mid-September, the AP reported.
The lockdown changes apply in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since are all pursuing similar paths out of lockdown, the AP reported.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the coronavirus.
SOURCES: Associated Press