Boris Johnson will reveal how he plans to “restore people’s freedoms” in England at a news conference today, ahead of the final stage of his roadmap out of lockdown.
Downing Street said the prime minister wants to give the public and businesses more time to prepare for the easing of restrictions on 19 July, ahead of a formal announcement next week.
The government has said it will not know if its four tests (an effective vaccine programme, evidence the vaccines work, manageable infection rates and the low risk of variants) have been met until 12 July, a week before the proposed date to ease final restrictions.
But speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, Health Minister Helen Whately confirmed the country is “on track to take that final fourth stage of the roadmap on 19 July”.
Step four of the prime minister’s COVID-19 roadmap was delayed by a month in June, as case numbers began to rise again, giving every adult in England the chance to get vaccinated.
In the 5pm news conference at Downing Street, Mr Johnson will also set out the next steps around face coverings working from home and the one-metre plus rule, as well as the latest advice on care home visits.
The results of the government’s reviews into vaccine certification and the future of social distancing will also be published.
The PM will also warn that Britons will have to learn to live with COVID and cases will continue to rise.
Ms Whately agreed that the reopening of society would lead to an increase in infections but would not estimate how many.
“I don’t have a number for you, but what we do anticipate is that we will continue to see infections rise as we open up more as people are going about life more like normal,” she told Sky News.
“We expect, by 19 July, that will be over two-thirds of the adult population having had their second dose – so that is far more protection from COVID.”
Speaking ahead of his latest announcement, Mr Johnson warned that “the pandemic is not over” despite the progression that has been made.
“Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our roadmap. Today we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach step 4,” the PM said.
“But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks.
“As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from COVID and exercise judgement when going about our lives.”
The announcement comes after Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday that measures such as the wearing of face coverings will become a matter of “personal choice” after 19 July.
Mr Jenrick said the success of the UK’s vaccination programme means the government is “able to think about how we can return to normality as much as possible”.
“It does seem as if we can now move forward and move to a much more permissive regime where we move away from many of those restrictions that have been so difficult and learn to live with the virus,” he added.
Ms Whately echoed the sentiment that people will, from step four of the government’s roadmap, be asked to “make a common sense judgment” about issues such as wearing face coverings.
“We are going to be asking people much more to take personal responsibility for choices like that,” she said.
“I know, like many others, I can’t wait to not have to wear a mask, but I will be cautious and try and make the right judgements and follow guidance on this.
“I can’t pre-empt the detail of what is going to be said later today, but overall what I can say is we are going to be shifting much more to an approach of where there is guidance but you take a personal responsibility, you make a common sense judgment about what is the right thing to do to protect yourself and others.”
However, medical experts have been worried over plans to ditch restrictions in recent days, with high-profile doctors calling for the use of face masks and social-distancing to remain in place.
Ms Whately also cautioned that care home visits will not “completely go back to normal” in the next phase of unlocking, adding that “there will still have to be some precautions”.
In response, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We are all desperate to move on from restrictions but with infections continuing to rise steeply thanks to the Delta variant, Boris Johnson needs to outline the measures he will introduce such as ventilation support for buildings and sick pay for isolation to push cases down.
“Letting cases rise with no action means further pressure on the NHS, more sickness, disruption to education and risks a new variant emerging with a selection advantage.”
He added: “Now we know this is the government’s strategy, when Sajid Javid (the health secretary) addresses the Commons he must explain what level of mortality and cases of long-COVID he considers acceptable.
“And what support will be in place for the most deprived areas where cases are highest and vaccination rates lowest.”
Mr Javid will announce the plans in the Commons today, following recent rebukes from Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for ministers giving press statements before telling MPs.