LONDON (AP) – Britain’s slow but steady march out of a three-month lockdown continues even as coronavirus cases rise in other parts of Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday, confirming that it is it will allow the reopening of businesses, from hairdressers to bookstores. next week.
Johnson said it is too early to decide, however, whether UK residents will be able to take summer trips abroad. He confirmed that the government will test a controversial “vaccine passport” system, a way that people can offer proof that they have protection against COVID-19, as a tool to help travel and major events return safely. .
Four weeks after England took its first step out of lockdown by reopening schools, Johnson said Britain’s vaccination program was progressing well and infections were declining. He said the next step would come as planned on April 12, with the reopening of hair salons, hair salons, gyms, non-essential stores and courtyards of bars and restaurants.
“We set our roadmap and we stick to it,” Johnson said during a news conference.
But, he added, “we cannot be complacent. We can see the waves of disease afflicting other countries and we have seen how this story goes. “
The night-out ban in England will also be lifted on April 12, and outdoor venues like zoos and drive-ins will be allowed to operate again.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different paths out of the lockdown.
Britain has recorded nearly 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest in Europe. But both infections and deaths have dropped dramatically during the current lockdown and since the start of a vaccination campaign that has delivered 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 testing will allow large-scale, indoor socialization events to return.
It says that all adults and children in England will be encouraged to get routine tests for coronavirus twice a week as a way to eliminate new outbreaks. The government said free lateral flow tests will be available for free starting Friday by mail, in pharmacies and at workplaces.
Lateral flow tests give results in minutes, but are less accurate than the PCR smear tests used to officially confirm COVID-19 cases. But the government insists they are reliable and will help find people who contract the virus but have no symptoms.
Currently, the law prohibits Britons from going on holiday abroad by virtue of the extraordinary powers that Parliament has given the government to combat the pandemic. The government said Monday that it will not lift the travel ban before May 17, and perhaps later.
“The government hopes that 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,” he said in an official update.
Once travel resumes, Britain will classify countries under a traffic light system as green, yellow or red based on their level of vaccination, infections and new virus variants of concern. People arriving from “green” countries will have to undergo tests, but they will not face quarantine.
The government is also testing a “COVID status certification” system, often referred to as “vaccine passports,” which would allow people seeking to travel or attend events to prove they have received a coronavirus vaccine, tested negative. for the virus or recently had COVID-19 and therefore has some immunity.
A series of events will begin this month, including soccer games, comedy shows and marathon races. The government said the first events will be based on testing alone, “but in subsequent pilots vaccination and acquired immunity are expected to be alternative ways of demonstrating status.”
The issue of vaccine passports has been hotly debated around the world, raising questions about how much governments, employers and places have a right to know about a person’s virus status. The idea is opposed by a wide swath of British lawmakers, from center-left opposition politicians to members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, and the policy could face stiff opposition when it comes before Parliament later this month.
Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady said vaccine passports would be “intrusive, expensive and unnecessary.” The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer, called the idea “un-British.”
The government said vaccine passports were almost inevitable, as many countries would surely require proof of COVID-19 status to enter. And he said that prohibiting British companies from asking customers for similar testing would be “an unwarranted intrusion into the way companies choose to make their facilities safe.”
However, the government said vaccine passports would never be needed to access “essential public services, public transportation and essential shops.”
Johnson acknowledged that vaccine passports pose “complicated ethical and practical problems” and noted that their introduction was not imminent.
“We are a bit far from finalizing any plans for COVID certification in the UK,” he said.
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