The public will still be “expected” to wear masks and urged to work from home after July 19, ministers and officials said on Sunday, as MPs warned Freedom Day risked being “watered down”.
On Monday afternoon, Boris Johnson is set to confirm at a Number 10 press conference that step four in his roadmap out of restrictions will go ahead, as planned, next Monday.
It will mark the end of all legal Covid regulations, but concerns have arisen that government messaging will curb people’s ability to take advantage of some freedoms again.
The Prime Minister is expected to say the four tests that will allow him to proceed with the final stage in his roadmap have been met, but he issued a note of caution on Sunday night.
“We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning,” he said.
While the vaccine rollout has “weakened” the link between Covid cases and hospitalisations or deaths, he stressed “the global pandemic is not over yet”.
Acknowledging that “cases will rise as we unlock”, Mr Johnson said: “Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS.”
His wary tone reflected fears about soaring coronavirus cases, which ministers have said could reach 100,000 a day within weeks, and growing worries in Whitehall about the decision to scrap all legal regulations this month.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said on Sunday that although there will be no government “diktat”, the public will be “expected” to continue wearing masks in crowded and enclosed places after July 19.
“The guidelines will be very clear on things like mask wearing. There’s an expectation for people to wear masks indoors, in crowded places, on public transport,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show. He added that it would be “both a personal responsibility and a corporate responsibility”.
Tory MPs said his rhetoric represented a notable toughening in the Government’s line on wearing face coverings. Last week Mr Johnson insisted that they would become a matter of “personal choice”, suggesting only that people “might choose” to wear them in crowded, indoor places.