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UK cases rise ahead of restrictions lifting

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to show caution when nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in England next week, saying an increase in cases underlined that the pandemic was by no means over.

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England will from July 19 be the first part of the United Kingdom to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to physically distance.

The government says the UK’s vaccination drive – one of the world’s fastest – has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.

But what was once billed as “freedom day” is now being treated with wariness by ministers after a new surge in cases and fears that there could be as many as 100,000 new infections a day over the northern hemisphere summer.

Johnson set a sombre tone, defending his decision to lift most of the remaining restrictions by saying the four conditions the government set itself had been met but also warning the country that more people would die from the coronavirus.

“We think now is the right moment to proceed… but it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over,” he told a press conference.

“To take these steps we must be cautious and must be vaccinated.”

Johnson said the final step of easing restrictions next week will be irreversible, as previously pledged, only if people act with caution.

After 18 months of pandemic, governments around the world have been wrestling with how and when to reopen their economies.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded on Monday that coronavirus restrictions had been lifted in the Netherlands too soon and he apologised as infections surged to their highest levels of the year.

The UK has implemented one of the world’s swiftest vaccination programs, with more than 87 per cent of adults having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 66 per cent having received two.

It ranks 20th in the world for per-capita reported deaths from COVID-19.

On Monday the UK reported a further 34,471 COVID-19 cases, up 26 per cent in a week, and six additional deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

-with AAP

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