In Scotland, face masks will still be mandatory, as opposed to England where they will become only recommended. The British Medical Association (BMA) said on Tuesday that the UK government’s decision to lift almost all coronavirus restrictions in England on July 19 is “irresponsible”.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: “It’s irresponsible – and frankly perilous – that the government has decided to press ahead with plans to lift the remaining COVID-19 restrictions on 19 July.
“The BMA has repeatedly warned of the rapidly rising infection rate and the crippling impact that COVID-related hospitalisations continue to have on the NHS (National Health Service). Not only pushing staff to the brink of collapse but also driving up already lengthy waiting times for elective care.
“The prime minister repeatedly emphasised the importance of a slow and cautious approach. But in reality the government is throwing caution to the wind by scrapping all regulations in one fell swoop – with potentially devastating consequences.”
Stephen Barclay, a government minister and chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News that while there was no perfect time to reopen society, the government must do so in order to get the economy moving.
“Reopening when the schools are back in September, reopening when the colder weather is also bringing other challenges, also brings its risks,” he said.
“It’s about getting that balance right, so people reaching their own judgements, being sensible, following the guidance,” Barclay continued.
“But we also need to get back to normal, businesses need to fire up, we need to get the economy going – those are important as well, because there are consequences to not doing that, both economically and in terms of people's health.”
Still, there were signs of government hesitation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously, repeatedly and emphatically said the roadmap out of lockdown was cautious but irreversible.
On Tuesday, however, Barclay told Sky News: "One never knows what will be in the winter.”
Meanwhile in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her country’s roadmap out of lockdown – with most restrictions also being eased on July 19, but face masks will still be mandatory, as opposed to England where they will become only recommended.
“So while Scotland will move to Level 0 from next Monday, we will do so with certain modifications to our indicative plans,” she told the Scottish Parliament.
“This is intended to ensure that our pace of easing restrictions is sensible in light of the challenge we continue to face from the Delta variant.”
She added: “Measures like the continued wearing of face coverings are important, not just to give added protection to the population as a whole, but also to give protection and assurance to those amongst us who are particularly vulnerable and previously had to shield.”
Government data released on Tuesday showed that across the UK over the past 24 hours, there were 36,660 new cases, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to over 5.1 million. There were also a further 50 deaths, bringing the total to 128,481.
Over 45.9 million Brits, 87.3%, have received their first doses of vaccine, and over 34.9 million, 66.4%, their second.