British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday that his government plans to scrap laws requiring face masks and physical distancing later this month, though he acknowledged that lifting the restrictions will drive surging coronavirus cases even higher.
Johnson said legal controls will be replaced by individual “personal responsibility” when the country moves to the final stage of its lockdown-lifting roadmap. That is scheduled to happen on July 19, though Johnson said a final decision would come on July 12.
The change will mean people can go without masks after months of enforced face-covering, though they will still be recommended in some enclosed spaces such as public transport.
The removal of physical-distancing rules will allow nightclubs to reopen after 16 months of enforced shutdown, and patrons to once again order drinks at the bar in a pub. No longer will customers have to scan a phone app to provide their contact details when entering a restaurant or bar.
The government will also stop instructing people to work from home if they can, leaving employers free to bring staff back to offices.
The changes apply in England. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following their own, broadly similar, roadmaps out of lockdown.
Britain has recorded more than 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Western Europe, and confirmed infections are rising due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
Confirmed cases have shot up from about 2,000 a day earlier this year to 25,000 a day in the past week. But the number of deaths is broadly stable, at fewer than 20 a day.
Public health officials say Britain’s vaccination program has weakened the link between infections and deaths, though not severed it. So far, 86 per cent of U.K. adults have received at least one vaccine dose and 64 per cent are fully vaccinated. The government aims to give everyone over 18 both shots by mid-September.
Johnson said Britain would have to “learn to live with this virus” — a major shift in tone from a leader who has previously painted COVID-19 as an enemy to be vanquished.
“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. “We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID.”
But, he said, “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?’ “
– From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 5 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
Canada has reported 1,417,639 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 5,812 considered active, as of 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 26,368. More than 39.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country.
In the Atlantic provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador reported 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, 12 of which were crew members aboard a ship anchored in Conception Bay.
Health officials in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia each reported one new case of COVID-19 on Monday. Health officials in Prince Edward Island had not yet provided any new information.
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In Quebec on Monday, health officials reported one additional death and 176 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday. Starting Tuesday, Quebecers will be able to book their second dose of vaccine as early as four weeks after their first.
Health Minister Christian Dubé says he is concerned with the lagging vaccination rate of the 18-29 age group as the start of the school year approaches, and that pushing forward second-dose appointments will make a big difference.
Ontario on Monday reported one additional death and 170 new cases of COVID-19. The update came just hours after the province opened up eligibility to all 12- to 17-year-olds for an accelerated second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Across the North on Monday, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories reported no new cases of COVID-19. Health officials in Yukon, which has been dealing with growing case numbers, reported 40 new cases between Friday and mid-Monday.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported one additional death and 65 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Nearly 75 per cent of eligible Manitobans have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 50 per cent have had two doses, putting the next phase of reopening within sight.
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Saskatchewan reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.
Alberta, which didn’t release any new COVID-19 numbers over the weekend, on Monday reported two more deaths. It also reported 139 new cases over the previous three days (42 on Friday, 53 on Saturday, and 44 on Sunday).
Health officials in British Columbia on Monday reported three deaths and 87 new cases over the past three days.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 10 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday evening, more than 184 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus database, which collects information from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.9 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia has ordered oxygen makers to prioritize medical needs amid growing demand from COVID-19 patients, the government said on Sunday, following more than 60 deaths in a hospital where supply was almost exhausted.
Australia’s New South Wales said on Monday the next two days would be “absolutely critical” in deciding whether a two-week anti-coronavirus lockdown in Sydney, set to end on July 9, will have to be extended amid rising delta variant cases.
In Europe, some regions in Spain are reinstating nightlife restrictions only weeks after dropping them, part of an attempt to stem a spiralling number of coronavirus infections among unvaccinated young people.
Germany is easing strict restrictions on travel from Britain, Portugal, Russia, India and Nepal that were imposed because of the rise of the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
Germany’s national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said late Monday that the countries will be removed from its highest risk category of “virus variant areas” effective Wednesday. They will move into the second-highest category of “high-incidence areas.”
Early trials of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine among children aged 12 to 17 have started in Moscow, city officials said Monday. The new trial comes as Russia faces a sharp surge in coronavirus infections and struggles to ramp up its low vaccine uptake.
In Africa, Burkina Faso recently received 115,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing initiative, according to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO).
WHO/AFRO also said that Zambia, which is among the five countries in Africa that accounted for 70 per cent of COVID-19 cases in June, recently received a donation of COVID-19 supplies worth $1 million US, including personal protective equipment, ventilators, laboratory reagents and test kits.
WHO delivers urgent <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> supplies to 🇿🇲Zambia thanks to <a href=”https://twitter.com/SADC_News?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SADC_News</a> & <a href=”https://twitter.com/AfDB_Group?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AfDB_Group</a> support.<br> <br>Africa’s third wave is picking up speed & spreading faster. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Zambia?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Zambia</a> is among the 5 countries in Africa that accounted for 70% of COVID-19 cases in June.<a href=”https://t.co/5LhQDzdtCc”>https://t.co/5LhQDzdtCc</a>
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, the fifth vaccine to receive such approval by the Gulf Arab state, the health ministry said in a statement to state news agency WAM on Sunday.
In the Americas, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients jumped by nearly 27 per cent over the Fourth of July weekend in a hard-hit area of Missouri where immunization rates are low, leading to a temporary ventilator shortfall and a public call for help from respiratory therapists.
The delta variant, first identified in India, is spreading rapidly, straining hospitals in Springfield and raising fresh fears that the situation could soon grow worse as holiday gatherings seed fresh cases. Missouri leads the country with the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days.
– From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:45 p.m. ET
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