From one minute past midnight today, 483 days of Covid regulations in England come to an abrupt end.
The new regime means there are no legal limits on the size of dinners, house parties and nightclub crowds.
People are no longer forced by law to wear a face mask in most indoor spaces, and mass events can restart.
But this is not the ‘Freedom Day’ Boris Johnson billed – and not just because he’s isolating after a meeting with Sajid Javid.
With cases surging above 50,000 a day and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warning we could have to rethink by the end of August, the Prime Minister is urging people to show “caution” and judgement.
Nine days after the PM’s ‘Freedom Day’ announcement, the government published reams of guidance that revealed in practice, not a vast amount will change.
People are still recommended to wear masks on public transport, even if they won’t face a £200 fine, and pubs and restaurants are still urged to follow a long list of rules even if they won’t be fined either.
Despite not being a legal requirement, Covid passports may well become a fact of life when getting into nightclubs and big events.
3.7million clinically extremely vulnerable people are being told they might want to avoid unvaccinated people and crowded spaces – a move critics say has “thrown them to the wolves”.
Meanwhile Wales, Scotland and major English cities are all keeping face masks compulsory in public transport settings where they can. They say the move is to stop Freedom Day becoming Fear Day for the vulnerable.
So what exactly is changing and what are the details you need to know? Here’s a rough run-down of the changes in England. Remember – if you’re in Wales or Scotland, you won’t find full details in this article.
The rule of six indoors and rule of 30 outdoors – which limited gatherings by law – are both being axed.
The 30-person limit that remained on some “life events” such as bar mitzvahs and christenings is also scrapped.
There are no longer legal limits on social contact.
The government has already toned down guidance that said everyone should stay two metres apart from people who aren’t in their household or bubble (or one metre with mitigations like masks or screens).
Instead, people can make a “personal choice” based on their age, medical conditions, whether they have been fully vaccinated, and so on.
The only exception will be in specific places – such as at the UK border (airport arrival halls), and if you test positive and are on your way to self-isolation.
But guidance remains that you may want to reduce your risk by “minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts”, and meeting outside or ensuring lots of windows are open.
Punters can once again queue at the bar in pubs and do not have to order from their table.
Pubs, bars and restaurants also no longer have to enforce social distancing between tables, and people can stand together in smoking areas or dance floors.
However, guidance also says customers may be discouraged from leaning on bars or counters, screens may stay in place, staff can continue wearing masks and venues are encouraged to make use of outdoor space.
Venues are urged to ensure “adequate” ventilation using a carbon dioxide monitor and consider shutting off areas that are poorly-ventilated.
The legal requirement to wear face coverings (and £200 fines) is being removed completely, in all settings.
But the government “expects and recommends” that people should continue to wear them, unless exempt, in crowded areas such as public transport.
On top of this, masks will continue to be a “condition of carriage” on all London public transport, the Tyne and Wear metro, Metrolink trams in Greater Manchester, and bus stations in West and South Yorkshire.
Healthcare settings will ask people to continue wearing masks, as will chains including Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose, Asda, John Lewis, Primark, Wilko, B&Q, Argos, Boots and IKEA.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people are urged to think “particularly carefully” about their risk from Covid.
While voluntary, this can include waiting to see someone until 14 days after their second vaccine dose, meeting outside if possible, avoiding crowded spaces, asking friends to take a test before meeting, and only going shopping at “quieter times of day”.
People may also want to “consider continuing to practice social distancing if that feels right for you and your friends”, the guidance says.
All remaining businesses in England can reopen with no capacity caps and no legal need to wear masks.
This includes nightclubs, which were among the only businesses shuttered for the entire 483-day period.
There is still health and safety guidance for big venues and mass events (below) but they can go ahead with no rules on social distancing.
So-called ‘high risk’ venues – which can include nightclubs, gigs, sports and even some crowded city centre pubs – are being urged to use Covid passports in future.
The NHS app (which is different to the NHS Covid-19 app) will allow people to show one of three things to enter a venue:
Their double-jabbed at least two weeks ago status;
Evidence of a negative lateral flow test in the last 48 hours; or
Evidence they have antibodies because they tested positive for Covid by PCR less than six months ago.
Venues can make showing the Covid passport a condition of entry – meaning you have to show it to get in.
But equally, they don’t have to use Covid passports if they don’t want to. It depends on the venue manager.
Talks between government and industry about exactly how it will work were only launched at a few days’ notice.
Venues no longer have to ask customers to check in using QR codes and the NHS Covid-19 app by law.
They are being urged to keep the QR code posters and a system for collecting contact-tracing details anyway.
But if you refuse to scan in, it’s entirely up to the venue whether or not they want to turf you out.
The school bubble system – where a whole class or year group isolates if one pupil tests positive – is axed.
From July 19, pupils also no longer need to social distance or stagger start and finish times.
However, if they are close contacts of a positive case they still have to isolate until August 16.
After that date, children will no longer have to self-isolate in England if they come into contact with a positive case; only if they have symptoms or test positive.
The five-person limit on each resident’s number of “named visitors” is being lifted, with any number of visitors allowed.
However, infection control measures such as PPE and enhanced cleaning will remain in care homes.
The guidance to work from home if you can in England is being axed from July 19.
The government “expects and recommends” a return to offices – but says this should only be “gradual” and “over the summer”.
A major rule still in place is self-isolation.
If you test positive, have symptoms, or are a contact of a positive case you must self-isolate for 10 days.
If you are told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace, it is a legal requirement and you can be fined if you do not.
If you are ‘pinged’ and told to isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app, it is not a legal requirement but it is still recommended.
This will change on August 16. From that date, people who had their second dose at least 14 days earlier will no longer have to self-isolate if they’re a contact of a positive case.
However, those who test positive or have Covid symptoms will still need to isolate even after August 16.
The red list of countries remains. From those countries, most non-UK residents or nationals are banned from flying into the UK completely. Those who are allowed to fly must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days and £1,750.
People arriving from amber list countries without a UK-administered vaccine must take three PCR tests and self-isolate for 10 days.
People arriving from amber list countries who were double-jabbed by the NHS – along with people arriving from any green list country – do not have to quarantine but do need to take two PCR tests.
People with Covid symptoms should continue to take a PCR test that gets sent off to a lab for analysis.
People without symptoms are also urged to take two rapid “lateral flow” tests per week. If one comes back positive, self-isolate and get a PCR test to confirm.
These are available free of charge until at least September 30. The government has not yet decided what will happen to them beyond that date.
The vaccine rollout is accelerated by cutting the dosing interval for under-40s from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
This matches the shorter eight-week interval that already existed for over-40s between their first and second dose.
It means the government now expects all adults to have been offered the chance for a second dose by mid-September.