England Has Lifted Most Of Its COVID-19 Restrictions, Even As U.K. Cases Are Up 41%

England has lifted most of its domestic COVID-19 restrictions, marking a milestone as the country moves into a new phase of pandemic life — what some have dubbed “Freedom Day.”

Young people gathered at nightclubs just after midnight to celebrate the return of crowds to raucous indoor spaces. “This is what life’s about,” one clubgoer said.

The move to phase four of the country’s reopening plan means there are no limits on the size of social gatherings or events, and social distancing is no longer required. The government still recommends meeting outdoors when possible.

Requirements to wear face coverings have been lifted, though masks are still recommended in crowded areas such as public transport. They are required on the London Tube. And the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if possible, though it anticipates a gradual return to the office.

Restrictions are lifting, but cases are rising
The loosened restrictions are happening as cases in the U.K. spike to the highest levels since January — up 41% over the previous week.

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“Today, we’ve taken the fourth step on the prime minister’s road map. We faced challenges and delays. However, thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout, we are now in a position to ease the majority of our domestic COVID-19 restrictions,” U.K. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Monday.

Zahawi said the new phase brings an emphasis on personal and corporate responsibility in combating the virus.

The moves come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in self-isolation following close contact with the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, who announced Saturday he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Johnson was just one of many Britons pushed into isolation after pings on their cellphones informing them they’d been exposed to someone positive for the coronavirus. Businesses across the U.K. faced labor shortages due to more than half a million people in a week receiving such pings and the recommended self-isolation measures.

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A spokesman for Johnson said Monday that the prime minister had tested negative for the virus and was not displaying any symptoms. Johnson had earlier said that rather than self-isolate, he would take part in a pilot scheme that used testing instead, but he later backed off that idea.

Johnson’s government is coming under fire
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer criticized Johnson and his Conservative government for lifting too many measures, calling it “a reckless free-for-all.”

Meanwhile, anti-lockdown protesters gathered Monday outside Parliament, complaining that the lifted measures weren’t enough.

“We don’t think it’s over yet. They are still mandating masks in supermarkets, people are still wearing masks, and they will try and roll out vaccines in September for the children,” 25-year-old Megan Bullen, an artist, told The Washington Post.

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