July 19 and the possible ending of Covid restrictions is not far away and Boris Johnson has said the UK will have to live with Covid like the flu.
The Prime Minister said the country will have to live with the disease, even if cases continue rising, after the vaccine appeared to weaken the link with deaths.
That means the dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ appears to be coming for England on July 19, with restrictions on social contact and big events lifted.
But it comes despite cases rising 73% in a week and daily announced Covid cases being the highest since the end of January, the Mirror reports.
There are a series of unanswered questions that still need answering before society can get back to normal.
We also have never been given a guarantee that all restrictions will end, and some aspects of Covid will be with us for the long term.
So what are the biggest unknowns as we approach July 19? Here’s a run-down.
What is an acceptable number of daily deaths?
Ending the restrictions will be based on four tests, none of which are a surge in case rates alone.
A surge in cases only fails the four tests if it risks “a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
So how will that be measured in terms of daily deaths? No10 won’t say.
Told 8,000 to 20,000 deaths were attributed to flu per year, the PM’s spokesman replied: “Like I say, that is just factually the number.
“That is not a target or a number that government sets.
“What actions the government takes is we have a very significant rollout of flu vaccine every year and last year obviously was our biggest ever; provide significant protection to the public.”
Has the link been broken with deaths?
If the vaccine has broken the link between cases and deaths, then it won’t matter as much if cases soar when restrictions are lifted.
But we don’t know that for sure yet, and we’re waiting for more data to find out in mid-July.
The PM’s spokesman said: “You’ve seen ministers and others talk about how we believe the link is being broken – whether it has been completely severed, that is what we’re waiting to see through the further data.”
Will all legal restrictions actually end?
No10 has refused to rule out some restrictions staying in place beyond July 19.
The roadmap previously said the “hope” was to remove all legal restrictions on social contact at step four.
No10 said on Tuesday (June 29) that was still the hope – but wouldn’t say exactly what will happen.
Some scientists have suggested some rules or guidelines – such as encouraging people to wear masks on public transport – will have to remain.
The PM’s spokesman said: “It’s our intention to return to normality as much as is safely possible.
“I’m not going to be drawn into what will or won’t be required beyond the end of step four.”
What will happen to social distancing rules?
Scientists have suggested it’s likely some social distancing guidelines could remain in place.
But the big question will be what happens to the rules in pubs, restaurants, sports venues and gigs and theatres.
They say the restrictions have made it impossible to turn a profit – so will you once again be allowed to queue at the bar?
This will be ironed out in a delayed social distancing review. This will be published “ahead of step four” but there is still no date.
No10 added: “Businesses so need as much time as possible and we will provide as much time as we can in advance.” But they didn’t guarantee it will come before July 12.
What will happen to Covid passports?
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has been working for months on whether or not venues should ask for a Covid ‘certification’ on entry.
This could mean showing your antibody status, vaccine status, or proof of a negative rapid test.
But months into the review, to be published before July 19, we still don’t know if the ‘passports’ will be needed domestically.
The government is grappling with issues around the feasibility of the scheme, whether it could be discrimination, and whether it will actually make a big difference to Covid rates.
What will happen to masks on public transport?
Officials are trawling through data to see if masks can be dropped when remaining rules are lifted – expected to be July 19.
It is currently mandatory to wear a face covering in shops and other public places such as public transport.
Some scientists have called for masks to continue to be used in some settings like on crowded public transport.
But senior Tories have become more outspoken recently about their desire to ditch mask rules completely and shift towards letting people make their own minds up.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said he plans to ditch his mask as soon as there is no “legal compulsion” to wear them.
And Chancellor Rishi Sunak also said he would stop wearing a face covering “as soon as possible”.
Will school pupils be able to stop self-isolating?
Ministers are under growing pressure to overhaul isolation rules as 375,000 kids missed class on June 24 due to Covid.
Children currently have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble tests positive for coronavirus.
Ministers have now written to secondary schools asking them to prepare to potentially replace isolation rules with regular testing.
A decision on whether to scrap school bubbles and contact isolation from September is due around July 12, together with other details for step four.
Will teenagers get the vaccine?
Soaring numbers of pupils isolating has prompted fresh questions about when young people can start to get vaccinated.
The UK regulator has approved the Pfizer jab for use on 12 to 15-year-olds.
But the decision lies with the Government, based on advice from their vaccine experts.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) weighed up safety data as well as ethical issues such as whether it’s a good idea to inoculate younger people who are less at risk of being seriously ill.
There have been reports that 16 and 17-year-olds could be offered the jab ahead of their return to school in September.
But the Department of Health and Social Care says no decision has been made.
Will we be able to mix and match vaccines, speeding up the rollout?
Recent studies have been optimistic about the impact of mixing different vaccines.
Research on Monday from the Com-Cov trial found one dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and and one of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab generates a “robust immune response”.
Countries like Spain and Germany are already offering mixed doses.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said there was no reason to change the current system but it could be something to consider for the future.
Vaccine supply data is kept under wraps but giving medics the flexibility to mix doses could help if there is surplus of one jab.
Prof Van Tam suggested it could give “greater flexibility for a booster programme” and allow the UK to help other countries.
When will the booster programme begin – and who exactly will get it?
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who resigned for breaching social distancing rules by kissing his aide – previously said a booster plan for the autumn would come in a few weeks.
Issues such as vaccinating kids and mixing doses will play a key part in how the booster programme looks.
Some medics have raised whether a Covid booster can be combined with a flu jab – but this could make the rollout more complicated.
When will double-jabbed Brits be allowed holidays without quarantine?
Ministers raised hopes last week that Brits could avoid quarantine on holidays to amber list countries “later in the summer” if they are double-vaccinated.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps poured cold water on the idea being implemented any time soon.
He told MPs on Tuesday that making new quarantine rules for families is “complicated” and “requires time to work through”.
The issue around vaccinating children is a sticking point as ministers are understood to be reluctant to say families can go abroad if the kids have to quarantine.
When will we stop publishing daily figures?
No10 said the government would continue publishing daily Covid figures, despite some Tories complaining they are fuelling restrictions.
Downing Street said the figures provide an “important level of transparency to the public” – but “we’ll keep it under review as we go forward”.