England will move into a period without legal restrictions as measures ease, Robert Jenrick says.
England will move into a period without legal restrictions where the public will have to exercise “personal responsibility” including on face masks, the housing secretary has said.
Robert Jenrick told the BBC’s Andrew Marr people would “come to different conclusions” over masks, but he trusted people “to exercise good judgement”.
He told Sky News he would choose not to wear a face mask.
All legal restrictions are expected to be lifted in England on 19 July.
Mr Jenrick’s comments come after doctors warned that some measures – including the use of face masks – should be kept beyond July, with the British Medical Association (BMA) calling the rise in infections alarming.
When asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether he was confident that all restrictions would end on 19 July, Mr Jenrick said: “It does look as if – thanks to the success of the vaccine programme – that we now have the scope to roll back those restrictions and return to a normality as far as possible.”
He said cases might continue to rise significantly as restrictions were eased.
“But we now have to move into a different period where we learn to live with the virus, we take precautions and we as individuals take personal responsibility,” he said.
When asked if the requirement to wear face masks in certain settings will definitely go, Mr Jenrick said: “I can’t make that commitment this morning because the prime minister will make an announcement in the coming days – it does look if the data is in the right place.”
He urged people to get double vaccinated.
And asked on Sky News about whether he would stop wearing his face mask if the rules allowed, Mr Jenrick said he would, as he did not particularly want to wear one.
But he said: “We will be moving into a phase where these will be matters of personal choice. So some members of society will want to do so for perfectly legitimate reasons but it will be a different period where we as private citizens make these judgements rather than the government telling you what to do.”
Mr Jenrick added: “We are now going to move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions – the state won’t be telling you what to do – but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement,” he said.
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said the link between coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths had not been totally broken as there were people in hospital who had been vaccinated.
“But it’s severely weakened,” he said.
Prof Powis said if some people continued to wear face masks in certain circumstances, such as crowded places, then “that’s not necessarily a bad thing”. “Those habits to reduce infections are a good thing to keep,” he added.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there was a compelling argument that easing Covid restrictions was needed for the country’s health.
He said while the steps taken had saved countless lives, rules had caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on mental health.
We need to learn to live with Covid, he added, acknowledging that “cases are going to rise significantly”.
Mr Javid said: “The economic arguments for opening up are well known, but for me, the health arguments are equally compelling.
“Rules that we have had to put in place have caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people’s mental health,” he added.
He said England was on track to meet the fourth and final stage of lockdown lifting – but the government had to be honest with people about the fact that “we cannot eliminate Covid”.
“We also need to be clear that cases are going to rise significantly. I know many people will be cautious about the easing of restrictions – that’s completely understandable.
“But no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view. We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu.”
Mr Javid warned the backlog facing the NHS would get “far worse before it gets better”, as millions of people had avoided coming forward for healthcare during the pandemic.
“We protected the NHS to make sure it was there for everyone who needed care. The steps we took saved countless lives but also led to the build-up of a vast ‘elective’ backlog – checks, appointments and treatments for all the less urgent, but often just as important, health issues.”
A further 24,885 Covid cases and 18 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded in the UK on Saturday.
The BMA said that the number of people admitted to hospitals in England with Covid-19 had risen by 55% in a week.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chairman, called the jump in cases alarming – fuelled by the spread of the Delta variant and increased social mixing.
“It makes no sense to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time,” Dr Nagpaul said.
The BMA called for the continued use of face masks and new ventilation standards, among other measures.
Meanwhile, a psychologist warned that letting fully vaccinated people avoid measures such as self-isolation risked a “loss of compliance” more generally.
Prof Robert West said the move – which ministers are said to be considering for after restrictions end in England – could breed resentment and encourage those without both jabs to ignore the rules.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules. On face masks and other measures, the Westminster government is working with counterparts in the other nations on a UK-wide approach.
Mr Jenrick said on Sunday he would like the whole union to move as one.