Lucy Wightman’s Column: Enjoy the freedom but do so safely and with consideration of others' views

"Lifting restrictions will enable many businesses crippled by the virus to reopen and empower the public to venture back towards the familiar"

It’s happening! The milestone of the much-awaited Step Four along the roadmap is going ahead on Monday (July 19).

Almost all legal restrictions on social contact in England created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will cease.

This will enable many of our remaining businesses, many still crippled by the virus, to reopen and empower the public to venture back towards the familiar.

Once again, we will be legally permitted to meet as many people as we like both indoors and outdoors. We will no longer be restricted by table service in bars and pubs and nightclubs will be open for the first time since the epidemic began.

Theatres, cinemas, live music venues, sports stadiums will be fully functioning and the limits on those attending weddings and funerals will be lifted. We will be legally permitted to dance, sing and be merry together once again. Words which were unthinkable to write before all this began.

Let’s be absolutely clear, this is not yet a full return to normal. I echo the Prime Minister’s words when he says, “it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution, this pandemic is not over.”

So, despite the freedoms being returned, Step Four by no means marks the end of the need for caution and restraint — cautious guidance will remain.

Lucy Wightman

The government accepts that further cases, hospitalisations and deaths will occur as the country learns to live with Covid-19 and while cases are high and rising, everybody needs to continue to act carefully and remain watchful.

With this at the forefront of thinking, government is issuing official ‘cautious guidance’ for individuals, businesses and the vulnerable whilst prevalence is high. This includes the following:

■ Whilst Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, they expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer

■ Government expects and recommends people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as busy public transport

■ Being outside ideally or letting fresh air in when meeting with others indoors

■ Minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts

■ Encouraging and supporting businesses and large events to use the NHS Covid Pass in high-risk settings to help to limit the risk of infection. If sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection. The Government will consider mandating the NHS Covid Pass in certain venues at a later date.

By Monday, all adults in England will have been offered a first dose of the vaccine which largely protects us against the ravages of the coronavirus.

It is vital to get both doses of the jab when the call comes. The protection the vaccination provides not only reduces the severity and duration of infection should you catch Covid-19 yourself, but also reduces the likelihood of you infecting others.

While the success of the vaccination rollout has paved the way for the gradual lifting of restrictions, no vaccine is 100 percent effective, so we must all continue to exercise Covid-Safe behaviours.

For example, while wearing a mask will no longer be mandated by law, I encourage you all to consider whether this is right for you, and for those around you, in busy settings while cases remain high.

Also, household-to-household (ie person-to-person) transmission has been the biggest cause of the spread of the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

To prevent further cases across the county, I cannot stress enough how important it is to take a rapid flow test twice weekly to check if they are infectious and behave in a Covid-Safe way around friends, family and the wider community.

The following key protections will remain in place:

■ Testing when you have symptoms and targeted asymptomatic testing in education, high risk workplaces and to help people manage their personal risk

■ Isolating when positive or when contacted by NHS Test and Trace or when advised to by the NHS Covid-19 app.

■ Border quarantine for all arriving from red list countries and for those arriving from amber list countries, other than those UK residents fully-vaccinated in the UK programme

So please, enjoy the freedom the removal of some of the final restrictions provides, but do so safely and with consideration of others views.

Lucy Wightman is Director of Public Health for West Northamptonshire Council