Millions of people across England are experiencing their first day without legal lockdown restrictions that have been in place for more than a year.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “freedom day” ending the restrictions was marred on Monday (July 19) by surging infections, warnings of supermarket shortages and his own forced self-isolation.
Johnson’s bet that he can get one of Europe’s largest economies firing again because so many people are now vaccinated marks a new chapter in the global response to the coronavirus.
If the vaccines prove effective in reducing severe illness and deaths even while infections reach record levels, Johnson’s decision could offer a path out of the worst public health crisis in decades. If not, more lockdowns could loom.
From midnight, laws in England requiring masks to be worn in shops and other indoor settings lapsed, along with capacity limits in bars and restaurants, and rules limiting the number of people who can socialise together.
Dozens of people could be seen in Parliament Square on Monday morning (July 19) taking advantage of the current warm temperatures in London.
Britain has the seventh highest death toll in the world, 128,708, and is forecast to soon have more new infections each day than it did at the height of a second wave of the virus earlier this year. On Sunday there were 48,161 new cases.
But, outstripping European peers, 87% of Britain’s adult population has had one vaccination dose, and more than 68% have had the two doses which provide fuller protection. Daily deaths, currently at around 40 per day, are just a fraction of a peak of above 1,800 seen in January.