From masks to self-isolation: which Covid rules will change in England on 19 July? | Coronavirus

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What has been announced today?

Ministers have confirmed the widely expected plan to go ahead with the final stage of Covid unlocking in England from 19 July. This will involve the end of more or less every domestic legal restriction. All businesses will be able to open, without Covid-related capacity limits, and mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing will be left to people’s personal responsibility. There are, however, some changes in approach over the past week when it comes to voluntary measures.

What mandatory restrictions will stay in force?

Just a handful. This includes the need to self-isolate if you test positive for coronavirus, or if you have been in close contact with someone who does, although the latter will end from 16 August for under-18s and those who have received a second Covid vaccination at least 10 days before the contact. Border restrictions will also stay in place, depending on the status of the country from which people have travelled.

Has anything changed over masks?

While the rules on masks are the same as announced by Boris Johnson a week ago – it is entirely voluntary – the language has been considerably toughened up, with ministers saying people will be “expected” to cover their faces in crowded indoor areas such as public transport and shops. However, while rail and transit operators can make mask use a condition of carriage, officials say there is no basis in law for shop owners, even those who are clinically vulnerable, to bar the maskless. There are not even any rules in place for pharmacies, where staff sometimes carry out face-to-face consultations and examinations.

What about returning to workplaces?

Again, while all obligation for home working will end, the Downing Street view is that the government will “expect and recommend” a gradual return to offices, with many of those who are able to work from home still doing so over the summer. In the next few days, there will be six pieces of workplace guidance for the next stage of unlocking, for various sectors of the economy. But as with shop staff, employees who are clinically vulnerable or have a compromised immune system will have no right to demand home working, even if their workplace is not socially distanced and colleagues do not wear masks. They are still being encouraged to liaise with their employers.

Any guidance for mass events, nightclubs and the like?

Yes – and this is a definite change from a week ago. What are called “larger” events, and those where numerous people will mix indoors at close quarters, are being encouraged to introduce certification measures, also known as Covid passports. This would mean patrons having to prove a second vaccination at least 10 days before, or a recent negative Covid or positive antibody test. Officials are somewhat vague about what sort of events will be expected to do this, but as well as nightclubs and festivals, it could also cover football matches and even pubs or bars.

What is to stop businesses just ignoring certification?

Nothing. Officials concede that if a nightclub decided to pack in any number of customers up to the fire limit seven days a week, without checking a single Covid app, then from 19 July it could do it. Certification will be “encouraged”, with work done alongside industry bodies. But with only a week’s notice, and the extra staffing and time costs of checking every customer, it remains to be seen how widespread takeup will be.

What formal updates to guidance can we expect?

A few. On Monday, a series of Sage and Spi-M papers from last week will be released, as well as a fairly short document formally setting out what is changing, and what measures are staying in place. On Monday or Tuesday, there will be guidance for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, though this is likely to be limited to fairly basic advice such as meeting people outdoors, checking if people you are meeting are vaccinated, and asking your GP if in doubt. Finally, in the next few days will come six sector-specific pieces of advice on returning to work.

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