Families who lost their loved ones to Covid-19 have slammed Boris Johnson’s plans to scrap social distancing and mask-wearing rules from later this month as an “error”.
It comes after prime minister held a press conference to announce that restrictions – such as the wearing of masks and social distancing of at least one metre – would no longer be in force from 19 July, with the final decision due next Monday.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group accused the government of having “skewed priorities” as it set out its plans for the next stage of the road map. They added that it feels “like an error to act like we’ve got Covid beaten”.
The group’s co-founder Jo Goodman lost her father Stuart to the virus. She said that she does not trust that the government is doing the right thing as the number of new Covid-19 cases has been rising.
On Monday, the number of new cases reached 27,334, the second-highest figure since the end of January. There were also nine coronavirus-linked recorded deaths.
During the press conference, Mr Johnson acknowledged that deaths linked to Covid-19 will continue. He added that the link between deaths and rising infections has only been “weakened” by high rates of vaccination but not severed.
Ms Goodman said: “It feels like they’re repeating many of the same mistakes they made last summer.
“It’s a gut-churning de ja vu for those of us whose loved ones paid the ultimate price for those mistakes.
“The race to vaccinate people feels pretty finely in the balance at the moment and, with cases surging, honestly it feels like an error to act like we’ve got Covid beaten.”
Mr Johnson had suggested during the press conference that summer would be the best time to scrap the rules.
He said: “We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves: when will we be able to return to normal?”
As part of the easing of restrictions, the legal requirement to wear face coverings will be lifted, although guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in “enclosed and crowded places”.
Ms Goodman said the scrapping of mandatory mask wearing was “particularly horrifying” to the families of transport workers who have died.
She added: “The thought that transport workers may be put at risk as cases rise is an insult to those we have lost, and shows worrying disregard for the key workers we have relied on so heavily during the course of the pandemic.
“Wearing face masks is an evidence-based, low-cost intervention proven to save lives, so it’s hard to see what the logic is behind today’s announcement.”
At the press conference, Mr Johnson also announced that the requirement to work from home where possible will end.
Social distancing restrictions of at least one metre will also remain in place at ports and airports. Local transport authorities and airlines will be able to set mask-wearing as a condition for travel, but there will be no law requiring it.