Shoppers and commuters snubbed calls to continue wearing masks today after a raft of Covid curbs in England including compulsory face coverings and ‘vaccine passports’ were scrapped.
Supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose, and Transport for London are still insisting customers ‘do the right thing’ and cover their faces despite Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths all tumbling in the past 24 hours.
People at a Tesco superstore in Slough, Berkshire and an Asda in Kings Heath, south Birmingham chose not to wear masks today.
Shoppers at the Bentall Centre in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey told MailOnline that they would continue wearing masks ‘until the virus has been defeated’.
One person called face coverings ‘the best way to protect ourselves’ and insisted ‘there is no harm in it’. Another said: ‘I don’t want to get the virus’. And a fourth piped up: ‘How hard is it if your personal health is at risk? It is not really much of a hardship.’
However, large numbers of commuters at Liverpool Street Station and Waterloo in London chose to keep wearing face coverings.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said masks will remain mandatory on TfL services, calling on people to ‘do the right thing’. The Labour figure has warned that face coverings will remain a ‘condition of carriage’ on Tubes, buses, Overground trains, trams or river boats – meaning people without masks may be denied travel unless exempt.
TfL has warned that ‘those who do not wear face coverings may be prevented from using our services or asked to leave the network’. But the threat of being fined if people don’t cover their faces has been dropped because it will be no longer legally enforceable.
And legal experts today warned that shops cannot make people comply with their mask rules without potentially breaching the Equality Act.
Amid fears of mixed messaging, retailers have been urged to communicate their masks policy clearly. James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, warned: ‘Covid-related abuse, especially around the wearing of face coverings, has been a significant problem for retailers and colleagues throughout the pandemic’.
Boris Johnson’s critics have accused the embattled Prime Minister of axing Omicron measures in a bid to appease his restless backbench as Westminster braces for Cabinet Office mandarin Sue Gray’s much-anticipated report into the ‘Partygate’ drama.
But writing on Twitter today, the Tory leader warned ‘the pandemic is not over’ and told people to ‘remain cautious’. He also urged ‘anyone who hasn’t yet got their vaccine to come forward’.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, when asked about masks, said it will now be ‘a matter of personal judgment’. But public health guidance urging people to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces if coming into contact strangers will remain in place.
And rail operators also said passengers would be expected to wear face coverings, with the Rail Delivery Group saying train firms will ask customers to wear masks ‘out of courtesy to others’.
Also from today, a legal requirement for NHS Covid passes – dubbed ‘vaccine passports’ by lockdown sceptics – for entry to nightclubs and large events in England has been scrapped.
The Department for Education has also removed national guidance on the use of face coverings in communal areas of educational settings. And limits on the number of visitors to care homes in England are being scrapped from Monday.
The latest rolling back of restrictions follows the axing of WFH guidance last week, and advice for face coverings in classrooms for staff and pupils being scrapped.
As the virus crisis enters its latest stage:
- Network Rail is offering complimentary snacks and coffee to Britain’s train commuters in a bid to lure staff away from WFH;
- EasyJet said Omicron and Covid restrictions hit passenger demand for global travel last month;
- Anti-vaxxers stormed a vaccination centre in Ealing and accused NHS staff of ‘genocide’ as they demanded the site be shutdown;
- The PM is set to admit ‘serious mistakes’ over the lockdown party scandal as he battles to persuade MPs that he should keep his job;
- But Cabinet ministers insisted Mr Johnson would not need to resign if he was interviewed under caution because ‘people are innocent until proved guilty’;
- Daily Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths all tumbled in the past 24 hours, official data showed;
- Experts sought to calm fears about menstrual changes from Covid vaccines, insisting they are temporary and don’t leave women infertile;
- Tens of thousands of people in Germany protested the country’s new Covid restrictions and proposals to make vaccination mandatory.
An elderly female shopper pushing a trolley in a Sainsbury’s store in Kings Heath went without a mask
Some shoppers at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Vauxhall, London today went without a face mask
Some commuters chose not to wear masks at Liverpool Street station today. But most people kept wearing face coverings
Most commuters at Waterloo station in London this morning continued to wear face masks despite curbs being axed
Large numbers of commuters at Liverpool train station in London this morning continued wearing face coverings
A shopper walking out of a Sainsbury’s supermarket on Northumberland Street in Newcastle city centre this morning
Shoppers at an Asda supermarket in Kings Heath, south Birmingham this morning
Shoppers leaving a Tesco superstore in Slough, Berkshire without wearing face masks
A male shopper is seen not wearing a mask at a Tesco Express in Kings Heath, Birmingham
Shoppers leaving a Tesco superstore in Slough, Berkshire without wearing face masks
Shoppers wearing facemasks in London’s Oxford Street, as Plan B measures are lifted in England today
Boris Johnson leaving 10 Downing Street in London this morning, as he heads to engagements in North Wales
So what is changing… and when will it happen? Your guide to the post-curb rules as Covid Plan B rules are scrapped
MASKS IN PUBLIC PLACES
Masks are no longer legally required in shops and on public transport. But guidance recommending they be worn in enclosed public spaces will remain in place. Retailers and rail operators have said that customers should still wear masks, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that masks are a ‘condition of carriage’ on TfL services including Tubes and buses.
Do I have to wear a mask on a train in England?
- Transport for London: Yes. Wearing a face covering will be compulsory as a ‘condition of carriage’ across all TfL trains including Underground and Overground services unless you are exempt. Those who do not comply could be denied entry or asked to leave.
- Avanti West Coast: No
- c2c: No
- Caledonian Sleeper: No
- Chiltern Railways: No
- CrossCountry: No
- East Midlands Railway: No
- Gatwick Express: No
- Grand Central: No
- Great Northern: No
- Great Western Railway: No
- Greater Anglia: No
- Heathrow Express: No
- Hull Trains: No
- LNER: No
- London Northwestern Railway: No
- Lumo: No
- Merseyrail: No
- Northern: No
- South Western Railway: No
- Southeastern: No
- Southern: No
- Stansted Express: No
- Thameslink: No
- TransPennine Express: No
- West Midlands Railway: No
What are the supermarkets saying?
- Sainsbury’s: Shoppers are being asked to wear masks ‘if they are able to’
- Tesco: Customers are being ‘encouraged’ to wear face coverings ‘to be on the safe side’, but cannot compel shoppers to wear masks
- Waitrose: Shoppers are being told that it is ‘down to personal choice’ if they wear masks
- Morrisons: Customers don’t have to wear masks, saying it is down to ‘personal judgement’
- Asda: Yes, but only if you want
- Aldi: Mask-wearing in stores in England is now a matter of ‘personal choice’
- Lidl: Customers to ‘individually decide if they prefer to continue wearing a face covering or not’
- Marks and Spencer: Shoppers don’t have to wear masks, but are asked to ‘respect the decision of other customers’ whether they do or don’t
Proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test is no longer needed to enter nightclubs and large venues in England. But businesses will still be free to use the NHS Covid Pass if they want.
An announcement was made this week on scrapping the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a Covid test on returning to England.
WORKING FROM HOME
The Prime Minister said the Government is no longer asking people to work from home. He called on people to speak to their employers about arrangements for returning to the office.
MASKS IN SCHOOLS
Since last week, secondary school pupils will not have to wear face coverings in classrooms. The requirement to wear masks in corridors and other communal areas will end next Thursday, January 27.
BY THE END OF THE MONTH
Limits on the number of visitors to care homes in England are being scrapped next week following the success of the Covid-19 booster jabs campaign. From January 31, there will be no limit on the number of visitors allowed into care homes and self-isolation periods will be cut, with the new rules applying to England only, the Department for Health and Social Care has said.
BY MARCH AT THE LATEST
Boris Johnson said he ‘very much expects’ not to renew the legal requirement to self-isolate with Covid when the rules lapse on March 24. He said this could happen even earlier, if the data allows. The legal requirement will be replaced with guidance that urges people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.
Free Covid lateral flow tests look set to be scrapped by July. People will be pointed towards an online ordering system to purchase the tests, which cost £30 for a pack of seven.
Barrister Francis Hoar today warned that shops cannot make people comply with their mask rules without potentially breaching the Equality Act.
Speaking to Talkradio, he said: ‘In principle, a shop does have the right to say you can do what we tell you to do in our shop’.
But he warned that that is subject to the Equality Act, telling the broadcaster: ‘There are unknown reasons why people may not be wearing a mask which may be connected to a disability… and to ask them to reveal that is discriminatory and is in breach of their privacy’.
More people could be seen wearing blue surgical masks as they wandered around the Bentall Centre than those without coverings.
Office worker James MacNair, 33, said: ‘It’s no hassle. I’ve got used to it over the last two years and is effective in stopping the virus spreading. It also protects me against any other virus. I have not had a cold in two years so it must be doing some good.’
Elaine Chan and her friend Emily Chou insisted they would continue to wear a mask until the number of people being infected with Omicron dropped.
‘The virus is still out there, and this gives me some protection,’ Miss Chan, 28, said. ‘This is the best way to protect ourselves. There is no harm in it.’
Her friend Elaine added: ‘I don’t want to get the virus and it is no trouble to wear the mask.’
Mother-of-one Sally Archold said she was pleased not to have to keep looking in her handbag for a mask. She also said she was sceptical over Mr Johnson’s decision to end Plan B.
‘He is in a lot of trouble and this takes the heat off a bit,’ she said. ‘So many people have not bothered to wear masks since Christmas they might as well have ended the rules. We are just going to have to live with it. I am tired of all the rules saying what you can and can’t do.’
Daisy Almay said she had stopped wearing a mask weeks ago and welcomed the end to the requirement.
‘More than anything not having to wear a mask shows that the virus is on its way out,’ she said. ‘Even when we had to wear the mask so many people didn’t bother, or it would be handing below their nose and not being worn correctly. There is no point in that.’
Usman Ali, 24, said he had not contracted the virus and put much of that down to wearing his mask. ‘How hard is it if your personal health is at risk,’ he said. It is not really much of a hardship.’
Speaking to MailOnline at Clapham in south London, Donna Sweeney, a 54-year-old mother, said: ‘I think it’s disgusting – people are dying in care homes. The primary schools are full of it and it’s infecting the parents.
‘People are going to go out this weekend and then there’s going to be another wave. They let us have the Christmas break because they knew what Boris did.
‘I think it should be mandatory everywhere – the virus is still everywhere – dropping any regulations around it just doesn’t make any sense.
‘I have a friend who’s dad died in a care home and he hadn’t seen anyone in months and months.
‘We would have had half the deaths if Boris had done the right thing earlier.’
Doug Barber, 53, who runs a retail design business in Putney, said: ‘While I have worn a mask when I’ve had to, I think it’s enough now. The average age to die from Covid is 82, the average for a man to die is 82. People are dying at just the same rates but they’re just dying from a different disease.
‘Covid has done terribly for the economy. Think of the retail sector, the arts, the hospitality industry – it has had an impact.
‘I think it’s a good thing that things get back to normal.’
Kym Dilloway, with her dog Beau, a 42-year-old dogwalker and trainee yoga teacher from Battersea, said: ‘I think that it’s too soon still.
‘I think you should have to at least wear them in shops. I think that’s a bit too soon. Soon it’s going to be half term and kids are going to go see their grandparents – I am a bit worried.
‘I will definitely keep wearing my mask. People have to think that flu rates have gone down. Maybe it’s a good idea we’re not getting germs on each other?
‘I think that people need to keep in mind the strain on the NHS is overwhelming and this won’t help. I don’t know why the regulations have changed – it just feels a bit convenient with all the negative stories about Boris.’
Martin Brockley, a 79-year-old retired railway worker, said: ‘I will wear a mask whenever I’m out. It’s good for me because I have asthma, I don’t want to get ill.’
Tim Barrett-Smith, 52, who works with local councils from Wimbledon, said: ‘I’ve just come from the tube and train station and a lot of people were still wearing masks.
‘I think encouraging people to think for themselves and wear one when they think is appropriate is a good thing.
‘I think it’s probably good for the time being that it’s still mandatory on public transport, but I’m sure people will just forget if it’s normal to not wear a mask anymore. I will prefer to wear a mask personally, but to each their own.’
Shoppers on Northumberland Street in Newcastle were still wearing masks this morning despite Plan B curbs being eased.
Retired Carol Grant, 74, said: ‘I will still wear masks where there’s a lot of people such as supermarkets. It’s not nice and I feel like I can’t breathe but it’s worth it for safety.
‘It’s worse when I have my glasses on but I don’t mind doing it while I’m popping in and out. I’ve been quite careful over the past couple of years and managed to avoid it so far so I plan on doing the same now.’
Patrick Tait, a 20-year-old politics student at Newcastle University, added: ‘It seems reasonable to keep wearing them for others safety. I use other people as a guide. If someone else is wearing one or they’re elderly I’ll put one on.
‘I’m young and healthy, I’ve had other strains which are supposedly more dangerous that Omicron so I do it for others.
‘I know others have anxiety about Covid or are elderly and at risk so if it keeps them safe I’ll wear one.’
Aurora Harrison, a 36-year-old interior design student from Northumbria University said: ‘I’m only not wearing one because I’m exempt but it’s good to see people with them on.
‘I think it’s coincidental this policy has came out when the Sue Gray report is due out. It seems more like a distraction than anything else but I don’t think the numbers justify scrapping masks.’
Shop workers’ union Usdaw welcomed the retention of Covid-safety measures in some stores, as its general secretary Paddy Lillis branded as ‘deeply disappointing’ the end to mandatory face coverings in shops ‘despite the concerns of shop workers’.
How the British public are responding to today’s ‘bonfire’ of Covid curbs…
Shoppers in Clapham, south London, gave their take on mask rules being lifted today.
Gina Stephens, 74, a former project manager from Wandsworth
Gina Stephens, 74, a former project manager from Wandsworth, said: ‘I feel okay about wearing a mask.
‘I was saying the other day it felt like more people were wearing masks now than they were before.
‘I have been vaccinated up to my eyeballs, but I think the danger with this virus is that you don’t know when and how it’s going to get you.
‘My son went away to somewhere where they just don’t get vaccinated and within a few days he had a cough and he tested positive.
‘I think while I will probably wear a mask in supermarkets still, but I probably won’t when I’m out in public.’
Edmund O’Leary, 54, an employment specialist from Epsom
Edmund O’Leary, 54, an employment specialist from Epsom, Surrey, said: ‘I will listen to the laws and I will listen to Boris apart from what he has to say about parties.
‘I wrote a tweet that went viral saying “I’m not ok”. I’ve found lockdowns and the restricting rules very tough.
‘It feels like we’re in a bit of a limbo with them, with them mandatory on public transport but fine everywhere else.
‘Shops can also refuse entry if you don’t want to wear a mask.
‘I think the Government should make a law to say that a business cannot refuse entry if you don’t wear a mask. If they are no longer mandatory everywhere other than transport, I don’t see the reason.’
Gary Jones, 59, from Clapham, said: ‘I’m really not bothered about wearing a mask. If you’re not used to it now, get used to it.’
And other industries also urged venues including theatres and concert halls to keep masks in place, despite the impact of Covid curbs on footfall and revenue.
However, mask critics accused ministers of spreading ‘scare stories’ by retaining guidance on face coverings. Hugh Osmond, who founded the Punch Taverns group, said: ‘Being told to wear masks on tubes and buses creates a psychological message that people should still be fearful and not go back to work and not travel into the capital.
‘It’s a signal for people to be worried, which has a tremendously damaging impact on the economy and specifically the hospitality sector.
‘It’s a destructive message which keeps people away from what they would normally do, such as visiting pubs and restaurants, and other activities.
‘That’s not only economically damaging, but also to their mental health and wellbeing.’
Julian Bird, chief executive of UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre, said he supported people continuing to wear face coverings despite bookings plummeting this year.
‘As restrictions ease, we continue to ask theatregoers to wear face coverings throughout our buildings unless exempt, to protect our hard-working staff, performers and fellow audience members,’ he told The Telegraph.
The scrapping of measures have been welcomed by some. Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, said small business owners ‘will be breathing a sigh of relief as Plan B measures are lifted’.
‘Having contended with trading restrictions for close to two years, many will be hoping this represents the beginning of the end of restrictive measures, which have severely impacted SMEs,’ he said.
‘Small businesses are still in recovery mode, and almost half are still suffering financially from the worst of the pandemic.
‘With many still living in fear of future lockdowns and the impact of further restrictions on trade, the lifting of Plan B restrictions will be a much-needed confidence boost as the country’s self-employed look to get business back on track.
‘Removing the work from home guidance will undoubtedly benefit independent traders in city and town centres – particularly those in the hospitality industry, who experienced mass cancellations as Omicron spread, and have suffered disproportionately in recent times.’
However, others have urged people to ‘be considerate to those around them’ when it comes to choosing to wear a face covering, and to ‘be respectful’ of policies in certain settings.
The British Retail Consortium said the changes ‘will enable shopping to return to a more normal experience for customers, employees and businesses’.
But their chief executive Helen Dickinson added: ‘Retailers ask customers to be considerate to those around them when choosing whether to wear a face covering and to respect the decision of other customers.’
It is ‘essential’ that retailers clearly communicate their masks policy to customers, said Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman.
He added: ‘While no longer a legal requirement, many stores will still have a policy of asking customers to wear face coverings whilst shopping, and that should be respected.
‘Covid-related abuse, especially around the wearing of face coverings, has been a significant problem for retailers and colleagues throughout the pandemic, so we ask all customers to be respectful of the policies in place in their local shops.’
The Government also said organisations will be able to choose if they will require Covid passes from those visiting their venues.
The withdrawal of the requirement for Covid passes has been welcomed by those within the hospitality industry.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, described the requirement as having been a ‘debilitating and divisive mitigation’ and said businesses across the night-time economy will celebrate the change.
Mr Kill said the impact of the measure has left ‘many businesses now concerned that they will struggle to survive beyond February’ and called for more Government support.
Shoppers choose not to wear masks at a Marks and Spencer in Newcastle, while one woman chooses to cover her face
A male shopper continued to wear a face covering in a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Kings Heath, Birmingham
Shoppers wearing facemasks in London’s Oxford Street, as Plan B measures are lifted in England
Commuters at Liverpool Street station in London continue to wear face masks as Plan B measures are lifted in England
Commuters on the circle line, London, as Plan B measures are lifted in England
Most commuters on the Metro train service in Newcastle city centre this morning continued wearing face masks
Commuters at Liverpool Street station in London continue to wear face masks as Plan B measures are lifted in England
A commuter on the train at Liverpool train station in London wearing a face mask and reading off a tablet
Large numbers of commuters at Liverpool train station in London this morning continued wearing face coverings
Other commuters at Liverpool train station in London seized the opportunity not to wear face masks today
A group of friends leaving a Tesco superstore in Slough, Berkshire this morning without face masks
Two male shoppers seen wearing face masks as they leave a Tesco superstore in Slough this morning
The above graph shows Covid deaths according to the Government’s dashboard. It shows that they are now starting to head downwards, in a sign they have also peaked
But it comes as Covid cases again start to rise across most of England and Northern Ireland, and in a few areas in Scotland and Wales. Experts have warned there will likely be an uptick when schools return
Care home visiting restrictions will be dropped from MONDAY: Ministers ditch limits to allow residents to see more of their loved ones
Covid restrictions in care homes are being relaxed in England from Monday as the country moves towards living with Covid.
The three-visitor limit brought in under Plan B last month to tackle Omicron will be lifted and self-isolation rules are also being relaxed next week.
And from February 16, care home workers will be asked to take a lateral flow Covid test before every shift, rather than the current system of weekly PCR tests alongside lateral flow tests three times a week.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the success of the booster programme, coupled with falling infection rates, meant it was safe to relax the curbs. Almost nine in 10 care home residents have been triple-jabbed.
Mr Javid said: ‘I know how vital companionship is to those living in care homes and the positive difference visits make, which is why we continued to allow three named visitors and an essential care giver under Plan B measures.
‘Thanks to the progress we have made, I am delighted that care home restrictions can now be eased further allowing residents to see more of their loved ones.’
Residents who test positive now only need to isolate for 10 days rather than 14, but they can release on day seven if they test negative the previous two days.
A rule which meant entire care homes had to be quarantined for 28 days if two or more residents tested positive is also being halved to two weeks.
Shaun Hinds, chief executive at Manchester Central, which describes itself as one of the UK’s leading events venues, described the end of plan B as ‘a very positive move’.
He said ‘a number of significant enquiries for events in 2022’ and new bookings for 2023 indicate a ‘real appetite and eagerness in the live events sector as it continues in its recovery’.
From January 31, there will be no limit on the number of visitors allowed into care homes and self-isolation periods will be cut, with the new rules applying to England only, the Department for Health and Social Care has said.
Care homes will only have to follow outbreak management rules for 14 rather than 28 days, and self-isolation periods will be cut from 14 days to 10 days for those who test positive – with further reductions if they test negative on days five and six.
Isolation periods for those in care following an emergency hospital visit are also being reduced from 14 to 10 days.
In addition, workers will be asked to start using lateral flow tests before their shifts instead of weekly PCR tests from February 16.
Care minister Gillian Keegan said: ‘Thanks to the continued success of the vaccine rollout, I am delighted we can ease restrictions in care settings and allow unlimited visits to ensure people living in care homes see all their family and friends.
‘The changes announced today are backed by scientists, ensuring we all have more freedoms from coronavirus, including care home residents and their families.’
Data published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that Covid cases continue to fall in most parts of the UK, though levels are still higher than before Christmas.
England, Scotland and Wales all saw a drop last week in the number of people in private households estimated to have Covid-19. Northern Ireland is estimated to have seen a small decrease in infections, though the ONS described the trend there as ‘uncertain’.
The latest figures suggest the virus is no longer as prevalent as at the start of the year, when all four nations saw a record level of infections.
An estimated one in 20 people in private households in England are likely to have had Covid in the week to January 22, or 2.6million people, down from 3million the previous week.
In Scotland, around one in 30 is estimated to have had Covid-19 last week, or 163,600 people, down from 236,600. In Wales, the estimate is also one in 30, or 99,500 people, down from 112,100. For Northern Ireland, the latest estimate is one in 20, with the total people testing positive down slightly from 104,300 to 96,500.
The number of Covid-19 infections in the UK, which is estimated every week by the ONS, is a more reliable guide to the level of coronavirus across the country than the number of new cases reported every day by the Government.
This is because the number of infections provides a snapshot of the prevalence of Covid-19 within the entire community population of the UK, and estimates the percentage of people who are likely to test positive for the virus at any one point – regardless of when they caught the virus, if they have had it before and whether they have symptoms.
UK’s Covid wave falls on every front with daily cases, admissions and deaths all down — and fatalities appear to have peaked at just 255 per day
Daily coronavirus cases, deaths and hospital admissions were all down as the UK’s fourth wave fell on every front — and figures suggest fatalities have peaked at just 255 per day.
There were another 102,292 positive tests across the country in the past 24 hours, Government dashboard data shows, marking a 5 per cent decrease on last Wednesday.
Daily infections have been plateauing for the past week after coming down quickly from a peak of over 200,000 earlier this month, with rising cases in primary schools and people returning to work thought to be playing a role.
Latest hospital data shows 1,399 Britons were admitted with Covid on January 22, which was 20 per cent lower than the previous week and the 11th day in a row admissions have fallen week-on-week.
There were also 346 more Covid deaths registered in the UK today — down by around 4 per cent in a week and more than a fifth on yesterday’s 439.
There are often lengthy delays between someone dying from Covid and their death being officially registered, which makes interpreting daily reported deaths more complicated.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said he ‘very much expects’ not to renew the legal requirement to self-isolate with Covid when the rules lapse on March 24. He said this could happen even earlier, if the data allows.
The legal requirement will be replaced with guidance that urges people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.
Furthermore, free Covid lateral flow tests look set to be scrapped by July. People will instead be pointed towards an online ordering system to purchase the tests, which cost £30 for a pack of seven.
The Department of Health said the changes come after a review of data last week including infections, vaccine efficacy, Covid pressures on the NHS, workforce absences, public behaviours, and views from the scientific community.
Sajid Javid claimed the success of Britain’s vaccine rollout is ‘allowing us to cautiously return to plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country’.
The Health Secretary insisted: ‘Our vaccines, testing and antivirals ensure we have some of the strongest defences in Europe and are allowing us to cautiously return to plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country.
‘As we learn to live with Covid, we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away so if you haven’t already – please come forward for your first, second or booster jab.’
It comes as the Prime Minister awaits Miss Gray’s official report into multiple alleged parties in No10 and Whitehall during the pandemic.
It is not clear what the report has discovered but an indication of how damaging it could be for the Government came when Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick announced a police inquiry was being carried out, based in part on evidence obtained by the Gray investigation.
There was speculation that after the report was not delivered yesterday, MPs and the public may have to wait until after the weekend for its publication, as Mr Johnson had promised to address the Commons shortly after it was released.
There were suggestions that due to today being Holocaust Memorial Day and many MPs being back in their constituencies from Thursday afternoon, No10 may hold off on publishing the report once it was received.
However, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said the conclusions would be important enough to bring to the House straight away.
Earlier, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested Mr Johnson had misled Parliament about Downing Street parties, something which would normally require a minister to resign. Asked if he would quit, the Prime Minister said: ‘No.’
Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Johnson would not have to step aside even if he was interviewed by police in their probe.
Speaking on Channel 4 News, Mr Rees-Mogg said ‘that wouldn’t be a resigning matter, because people are innocent in this country until proved guilty’.
But if the outcome of the Gray report is significantly damaging, Mr Johnson could face a revolt from his own MPs, who may choose to call a vote of no confidence.
The Mail reported that Tories were urging the PM to scrap a planned hike in national insurance to win back their support.
The Commons Treasury Committee has warned in a report released on Thursday that the rise in employer national insurance contributions would contribute to a rise in inflation.
Conservative MP for Bolton North East Mark Logan said that while Mr Johnson had his support, there needed to be a reset.
When the Gray report is published, sources close to the investigation team expect it to be published in full, although ultimately it is a matter for Mr Johnson to decide.
Downing Street said it is the ‘intention’ to publish the report in the format in which Mr Johnson receives it.