The British government eased pandemic restrictions on daily living in England on Monday, removing all social distancing requirements in a move criticised by scientists and opposition parties as a risky step into the unknown.
Nightclubs reopened and other indoor venues were allowed to operate at full capacity starting at midnight (2300 GMT Sunday), while legal regulations prohibiting the wearing of masks and working from home were repealed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who is self-isolating after his health minister was infected — urged the public to remain prudent and for any laggards to join the two-thirds of U.K. adults who are now fully vaccinated.
He defended the reopening — dubbed “freedom day” by some media — despite scientists’ grave misgivings after daily infection rates in Britain topped 50,000, behind only Indonesia and Brazil.
“If we don’t do it now, then we’ll be opening up in the autumn, the winter months, when the virus has the advantage of the cold weather,” the Prime Minister said.
This week’s start of summer school holidays offered a “precious firebreak”, he said. “If we don’t do it now, we’ve got to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it? So this is the right moment, but we’ve got to do it cautiously.”
In a bid to demonstrate a bit of caution, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC he would continue to wear a mask in “crowded indoor places”.
But Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labour Party’s health spokesman, said the government was being “reckless”, echoing experts who say the reopening endangers global health.
“We are against opening up without any precautions in place,” Mr. Ashworth told BBC television, attacking in particular the government’s plan on masks.
But professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London warned that Britain was on course for 100,000 cases a day, as the Delta variant runs out of control.