Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson Reuters

Britain will scrap laws requiring face masks and social distancing later this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday, though he acknowledged that lifting the restrictions will drive surging coronavirus cases higher, The Associated Press reports.

Johnson said legal controls will be replaced by "personal responsibility" when the country moves to the final stage of its lockdown-lifting roadmap on July 19, though Johnson said a final decision would come on July 12.

The change will mean people can throw away masks after months of enforced face-covering, though they will still be recommended in some enclosed spaces such as public transport, noted AP.

The removal of social distancing rules will allow nightclubs to reopen for the first time in 16 months, and people to once again order drinks at the bar in a pub. Customers will no longer have to scan a phone app to provide their contact details when entering a venue.

The government will also stop instructing people to work from home if they can, leaving employers free to bring staff back to offices.

Britain has recorded more than 128,000 deaths from COVID-19, the second-highest toll in Europe after Russia. Cases are rising due to the highly transmissible delta variant, which was first found in India.

Confirmed cases have shot up from about 2,000 a day earlier this year to 25,000 a day in the past week but the number of deaths is broadly stable, at fewer than 20 a day, according to AP.

In Monday’s remarks, Johnson said Britain would have to "learn to live with this virus" and added, "I want to stress from the outset that this pandemic is far from over. We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID."

At the same time, he continued, "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?’"

Johnson said he would "obviously wear a mask in crowded places ... simply as a matter of personal courtesy."

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