Despite calls for caution, the British government on Sunday lifted all pandemic restrictions.
In England, daily pre covid life would continue, as nightclubs and other indoor venues are allowed to run at full capacity, while legal mandates covering the wearing of masks and working from home were scrapped.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is self-isolating after his health minister was infected, has urged the public to remain prudent and get vaccinated.
He defended the reopening – dubbed “freedom day” by some media – despite scientists’ grave misgivings after daily infection rates in Britain topped 50,000, behind only Indonesia and Brazil.
“If we don’t do it now, then we’ll be opening up in the autumn, the winter months, when the virus has the advantage of the cold weather,” the prime minister said in a video message.
This week’s start of summer school holidays offered a “precious firebreak”, he said.
“If we don’t do it now, we’ve got to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it? So this is the right moment, but we’ve got to do it cautiously.”
Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labour party’s health spokesman, said the government was being “reckless”, echoing experts who say the reopening endangers global health.
“We are against opening up without any precautions in place,” Ashworth told BBC television, attacking in particular the government’s plan on masks.
After the success of the vaccination programme – which has now offered at least one dose to every adult in Britain – the government says any risks to hospital care are manageable.