The British government is intent on lifting all of England’s coronavirus restrictions on 19 July, Sajid Javid said Monday in his maiden speech to parliament as health secretary.
“We see no reason to go beyond 19th July,” Javid told MPs as he sought to steady the government’s pandemic response after his predecessor Matt Hancock resigned on Saturday.
The married Hancock quit after leaked security camera footage showed him breaking the social distancing laws he was urging the public to respect, by kissing a female adviser in his office.
Javid, who has previously served as finance and interior minister, was notably less cautious than Hancock on removing the restrictions, after the last stage was delayed.
“No date we choose comes with zero risk for COVID. Because we know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it,” he added.
“We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so I want every step to be irreversible. The restrictions on our freedom must come to an end…
“For me, 19th July is not only the end of the line but the start of a exciting new journey for our country.”
Britain has been one of the worst affected countries in the world by the pandemic, registering some 128,000 deaths since the start of the outbreak.
Tough stay-at-home measures began to be lifted in March but Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to postpone a scheduled 21 June easing of all restrictions.
Concern has mounted about a surge in cases of the Delta variant first identified in India, even though nearly two-thirds of all UK adults have had two vaccine jabs.
Javid said the Delta strain now accounted for 95 per cent of all positive cases.
Some 22,868 new cases were recorded on Monday, according to the latest government figures, up from 14,623 on Sunday.
The government said meanwhile it was investigating the camera footage leak that brought down Hancock, and denied newspaper claims that he had been awarding pandemic contracts using his private email address.
The camera was installed in the minister’s office by the Department of Health, rather than being placed covertly, officials said.
In that case, opposition Labour party MP Chris Bryant said, Hancock “must be the stupidest man on Earth”.