British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, shown outside 10 Downing Street on December 30, 2020, said almost all COVID-19 measures in England will be lifted within two weeks. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
July 5 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday that most of the COVID-19 lockdown measures affecting England will be removed on July 19.
Johnson said he expected the return of life to normal soon after 16 months of lockdown measures meant to fight COVID-19.
"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, we must ask ourselves, when will we be able to return to normal?" Johnson said at a press conference.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to announce students will return to full in-person instruction soon.
British officials last extended lockdown measures on June 14.
Johnson's announcement came as 50,000 new COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths were reported in Britain.
The long-awaited removal of lockdown restrictions means the end of the rules limiting attendance both at small events such as weddings and at large venues such as sports stadiums.
It will also eliminate wearing masks indoors, remove social distancing requirements and end COVID-19 registration at establishments.
The prime minister said the goal in lifting requirements is to "move from a universal government diktat to relying on people's personal responsibility," despite a worrying rise in the number of new cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
"Obviously," he added, "if we do find another variant that doesn't respond to the vaccines, if, heaven forbid, some really awful new bugs should appear, then clearly we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public."
The lifting of restrictions applies only to England. The rest of the United Kingdom -- Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales -- are governed by their own lockdown measures.
The Scottish government has a mandate in place that would extend mask usage through Aug. 9. Welsh ministers will meet July 15 to discuss COVID-19.
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, recently eased some lockdown measures and a meeting is set this week to examine the remaining restrictions.
The moves come as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is in self-isolation following prolonged contact with an infected person.
Hong Kong last week placed a limitation on British flights due to the spread of the Delta variant in the nation.