LONDON – Britain’s slow but steady march from a three-month blockade remains on the move, even as coronavirus cases rise elsewhere in Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday, confirming that the business from barbershops to bookstores could open next week
Johnson said it was too early to decide whether British people would be able to make summer trips abroad. He confirmed that the government would test the controversial “vaccine passport” system – a way for people to offer proof that they have protection against COVID-19 – as a tool for safe travel and major events.
Four weeks after England took its first step in rebuilding schools, Johnson said Britain’s vaccination program was going well and infections were falling. He said the next step would come, as planned on April 12th, with the reopening of hair salons, beauty salons, gyms, non-essential shops and patios of bars and restaurants.
“We have set out our roadmap and are sticking to it,” Johnson told a news conference.
But he added: “We cannot be complacent. We see the waves of the disease that are affecting other countries, and we have seen how this story goes. “
The ban on overnight stays away from home in England will also be lifted on April 12, and outdoor areas such as zoos and cinemas may reopen.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland follow similar but slightly different routes outside the blockade.
The UK has registered almost 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest in Europe. But infections and deaths have plummeted during the current blockade and since the start of the vaccination campaign, which gave a first dose to more than 31 million people, or six out of 10 adults.
The government aims to give all adults at least one shot of the vaccine by July and hopes that a combination of vaccination and mass tests will allow the return of social contacts indoors and large-scale events.
It says that all adults and children in England will be encouraged to do routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to eliminate new outbreaks. The government said free side-flow tests would be available free of charge by mail, pharmacies and workplaces from Friday.
Side-flow tests give results in minutes, but are less accurate than the PCR swab tests used to officially confirm COVID-19 cases. But the government insists they are reliable and will help find people who become infected with the virus but have no symptoms.
The British are currently banned from vacationing abroad under the emergency powers granted by parliament to the government to fight the pandemic. The government said Monday it would not lift the travel ban before May 17th – and possibly later.
“The government hopes people will be able to travel to and from the UK to take a summer holiday this year, but it is still too early to know what is possible,” the official update said.
Once the journey resumes, the UK will rank the countries of the traffic light system as green, yellow or red based on the level of vaccinations, infections and alarming new variants of viruses. People coming from “green” countries will have to be tested, but will not face quarantine.
The government is also testing a “COVID status” system – often called “vaccine passports” – that would allow people who want to travel or attend events to show that they have received either a negatively tested coronavirus vaccine. for the virus, or recently had COVID-19 and therefore has some immunity.
A series of events will begin this month, including football matches, comedy shows and marathon competitions. The government said the first events would rely solely on testing, “but for later pilots, vaccination and acquired immunity are expected to be alternative ways to demonstrate status.”
The issue of vaccine passports has been debated around the world, raising questions about how much governments, employers and venues have a right to know about a person’s viral status. The idea is opposed by a wide range of British lawmakers, from center-left opposition politicians to members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, and the policy could face stiff opposition when it is presented to parliament later this month.
Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady said vaccine passports would be “intrusive, expensive and unnecessary”. Opposition Labor leader Cyrus Starmer called the idea “non-British”.
The government has said vaccine passports are almost inevitable, as many countries will certainly require proof of COVID-19 status to enter. And it is said that banning British businesses from seeking such customers would be “unwarranted interference in the way companies choose to make their premises safe.”
However, the government said vaccine passports would never be needed to access “basic public services, public transport and basic shops”.
Johnson acknowledged that vaccine passports raise “complex ethical and practical issues” and stressed that their introduction is not forthcoming.
“We are far from finalizing all COVID certification plans in the UK,” he said.
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Jill Lawless, Associated Press