'Freedom Day' Alarm in U.K. As All Restrictions Eased Despite Delta Variant Dominating

Concerns have been raised that the British government is lifting a majority of COVID-19 restrictions too soon as what has been dubbed by some as "Freedom Day" arrives amid surging infection rates.

From Monday, July 19, there will be no legal requirement to wear face masks on public transport, shops and businesses such as restaurants and hairdressers in England, with other restrictions, such as limiting the number of people who can gather indoors and outdoors, also scrapped.

These rules are do not apply in the rest of the U.K., with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland keeping their restrictions in order to help cope with the rising infection rates.

A number of stores and supermarket chains have said they will still require customers to wear face masks in England, with Transport for London telling passengers they are still mandatory on the Underground.

The decision to have the lowest level of COVID-19 restrictions for more than a year in England comes when U.K infections rates currently stand at around 50,000 a day and approaching the record levels seen during the second wave over the winter period.

Despite an apparently successful rollout of the vaccine in the U.K, which has seen nearly 36 million people receive both doses, more than 48,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, with 25 deaths reported, as the Delta variant continues to spread.

A number of people, including medical professionals, have expressed their concerns about the lifting of restrictions on July 19 while stating they will abide by the guidelines in order to protect themselves and others.

Dr. David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy on COVID-19, told Sky News on Monday: "There is no sense of freedom in my heart, unfortunately there is a sense that this virus is very much here and giving us lots of surprises, lots of anxieties.

"And therefore as a society we go into the next period with our eyes wide open knowing pretty well exactly what to expect—that is, more disease, more long COVID and more challenges as to how we behave.

"My recommendation is simply: wear your mask. Don't get too close to people. Watch out in confined spaces. And remember, this virus hasn't gone away."

Others have also expressed concerns on social media that more deaths will surely follow and people who are high risk will not be able to experience "Freedom Day" as the Delta variant continues to infect tens of thousands of people every day.

Surgeon Shafi Ahmed tweeted: "I would urge everyone to still wear a mask and still practice social distancing as cases are rising and will inevitably have a big impact on the health services and lead to more admissions and regrettably deaths."

Disability charity Inclusion London added: "Disabled, chronically ill, immunocompromised, and many others seeing the government forge ahead with #FreedomDay but 'urging caution' with no consideration or support available for millions of people.

"It's hard not to take it personally, eh?"

Despite infection rates soaring in the UK, the very clever government has, yet again, decided to end all pandemic restrictions and favour the economy over people - yay! #FreedomDay pic.twitter.com/66XDa8MHjL

— Mike P Williams (@Mike_P_Williams) July 19, 2021

Good luck today UK on #freedomday*

*and thank you to all the NHS staff who will inevitably be there to pick up the pieces pic.twitter.com/AvngpL6uo7

— NHS Million 💙 (@NHSMillion) July 19, 2021

“Freedom Day” is here

RT if you don’t consider basic public health measures an infringement to your personal liberty & will continue to wear masks socially distance to help protect vulnerable people in our communities

We want to keep everyone safe💙@EveryDoctorUK#FreedomDay

— Dr Julia Grace Patterson💙 (@JujuliaGrace) July 19, 2021

Happy #freedomday everyone! Us NHS staff working in ICU tonight were very relieved to find out the COVID pandemic finished at midnight 🎉#FreeDumbDay pic.twitter.com/OR68utnv6z

— Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden 💙 (@sbattrawden) July 18, 2021

While the number of deaths and hospitalizations is significantly down compared to the previous peak of January, the rising levels of positive cases also mean more and more people are being told to isolate after being notified by the NHS app that they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

It is estimated that there are currently more than 500,000 people who are currently isolating for up to 10 days in the U.K after being "pinged" by the NHS app.

Those who do not isolate after getting notified by the app face a fine, with shops and supermarkets complaining that they have had to close stores or cut opening hours due to the number of employees isolating.

"It's a major issue across every industry at the moment," Steve Rowe, CEO of British supermarket chain Marks & Spencer, told Reuters. "Our COVID cases are roughly doubling every week and the pinging level is about three to one of COVID cases, so we're seeing that growing exponentially.

"If there's shortages we'll have to manage it by changing hours of stores, reducing hours. Where the industry will see the pain is in the supply chain, because logistics runs tight anyway to be efficient."

Two people who are currently self-isolating are British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. The pair were reportedly told to self-isolate by the NHS app after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.

On Sunday, the government announced that the pair would not be isolating after saying that they had both been selected to take part in a pilot scheme involving public and private sector organizations, including 10 Downing Street, which would mean they would take daily COVID tests instead.

However, following major outcry, the government performed a U-turn and announced less than three hours later that Johnson and Sunak would now isolate as required.

Labour Party Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News that Johnson and Sunak's attempt to dodge isolation shows there is "one rule for them at the top and another for the rest of us."

In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday evening confirming he is now going to self-isolate, Johnson stood by the decision to lift restrictions the following day, saying: "If we don't do it now, we've got to ask ourselves when we will do it.

"This is the right moment but we've got to do it cautiously. We've got to remember that this virus is sadly still out there," the prime minister added.

covid england
Commuters with and without facemasks arrive at Waterloo station in London on July 19, 2021. Virtually all pandemic restrictions were lifted in England Monday but "Freedom Day" was met with deep concern as coronavirus cases surge across the nation. NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images