Boris Johnson has said some “extra precautions” may remain in place to protect against coronavirus when he relaxes rules later this month.
During a visit to a Nissan plant in Sunderland, the Prime Minister told reporters he would spell out which measures might still be necessary in due course.
The government has said it is lifting social distancing regulations on 19 July, following a delay of its earlier June date.
But Mr Johnson told reporters: “I know how impatient people are to get back to total normality, as indeed am I.
“I will be setting in the course of the next few days what step four will look like exactly.
“But I think I’ve said it before, we’ll be wanting to go back to a world that is as close to the status quo, ante-Covid, as possible. Try to get back to life as close to it was before Covid.
“But there may be some things we have to do, extra precautions that we have to take, but I’ll be setting them out.”
The admission could upset anti-lockdown Conservative MPs, some of whom want all measures scrapped as soon as possible.
A final decision on exactly what the fourth phase of lockdown lifting will look like after 19 July is reportedly yet to be agreed by ministers, who are expected to balance public health with political considerations.
Two days ago Mr Johnson had said on 19 July people would be able to return to “pretty much life before Covid”.
Though polls generally suggest the public is overwhelmingly favour of lockdown measures when they are seen as required for public health reasons, a small minority, which includes many Tory MPs, are hostile to extending the restrictions.
Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, said this week that 19 July was “the end of the line” for Covid restrictions, while Mr Johnson has repeatedly called it a “terminus date”.
Asked what Mr Johnson meant by “extra precautions”, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “I think what’s right is the prime minister said he will set out further detail about what post-Step 4 looks like.
“I’ve said repeatedly and it suggests that in our roadmap that we aim to reduce or remove as many restrictions as it’s safe to do so. We will continue to monitor the latest data and latest evidence carefully and then we will update.”
Pressed on whether they could mean face masks and social distancing remaining in place post 19 July, they replied: “I’m not going to get into speculation — we want to remove as many restrictions as is safe to do so.”
If all regulations are dropped, people would be allowed to meet in groups of any size, and nightclubs would be allowed to reopen. Major events like music festivals could also be given the green light, while pubs and restaurants would be able to operate without the need for table service.
The initial delay in lifing restrictions was to allow more time for vaccination, which is now estimated to have prevented 7.2 million infections and 27,000 deaths in England, according to new joint analysis conducted by Public Health England and Cambridge University.
But a further 116,287 cases have been recorded in the past seven days – a sharp 70 per cent increase compared to the previous week’s total. Vaccination appears to be preventing the most serious illnesses, however, with fewer than 1 in 1,000 infections leading to a death, compared to one in 60 during the previous winter wave.
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