Boris Johnson has called for caution as most lockdown restrictions in England have been lifted.
Face masks are no longer mandatory in shops and on public transport, limits on gatherings have gone, the work from home guidance no longer applies and social distancing rules ended at one minute past midnight.
Nightclubs, theatres and restaurants can fully reopen, while pubs are no longer restricted to table service only.
Prime Minister self-isolating on ‘Freedom Day’
Mr Johnson is spending so-called “freedom day” self-isolating at his official country residence at Chequers after being “pinged” by NHS Test and Trace following a contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who subsequently tested positive for the virus.
He will self-isolate until July 26, which will include the final Prime Minister’s Questions before the Commons goes into recess, and the two-year anniversary of him entering No 10, which is on Saturday.
The Prime Minister said: “There is no doubt at all that the massive vaccination programme has very severely weakened the link between infection and hospitalisation, and between infection and serious illness and death. That is the vital thing.
“So please, please, please be cautious. Go forward into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people.”
Cases ‘could reach 200,000-a-day’
With new cases of the virus already having passed the 50,000-a-day mark, some scientists have expressed concern at the ending of restrictions while the Delta variant is spreading so rapidly.
Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling led to the first lockdown in March 2020 – said they could reach 200,000 before the current wave of the pandemic finally peaked.
Businesses have also warned of shortages on the shelves as the number of people off work after being pinged by the NHS Covid app continues to rise.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “We can already see that the infection rates are going through the roof, we know what’s going to happen with hundreds of thousands of people being asked to self isolate,” he said.
“The Prime Minister is essentially putting the whole nation into a car, pressing the accelerator and taking the seatbelt off.”
PM and Chancellor’s U-turn
Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who also met Mr Javid on Friday, initially tried to get round the requirement to quarantine by saying they would join a daily workplace testing programme being trialled by the Cabinet Office.
However they were forced into a hasty U-turn amid widespread public anger at their “special treatment” while tens of thousands of people were being forced to miss work or school and stay home.
Meanwhile, in an effort to alleviate pressure on the NHS, frontline staff in England who are fully jabbed are being told they may be exempted from quarantine if their absence may lead to “a significant risk of harm”.
A version of this article originally appeared on NationalWorld.com