Published: 09:08, 06 July 2021
| Updated: 16:29, 06 July 2021
Boris Johnson has been warned coronavirus numbers could rocket towards a million cases a week after he pledged to end most of England’s remaining pandemic restrictions.
Public Health England stats show the number of positive tests across Kent has risen by more than 120% in the last seven days.
But in an announcement yesterday, the Prime Minister revealed limits on social contact and the "one metre-plus" rule on distancing would no longer be in place on July 19.
Instructions to work from home and the legal requirement to wear masks are to be removed, though he said the use of face coverings would be advised in “enclosed and crowded places”.
Nightclubs would also be permitted to reopen, despite the Conservative leader's acceptance the pandemic is "very far from the end" and that there could be 50,000 new cases each day in a fortnight's time.
However, government adviser Prof Stephen Reicher believes there is a “very real risk prospect” that by the end of July there could be almost a million positive tests per week.
He told Channel 4 News: "I really do fear that if we were to get up to those high numbers of infections there is a risk of causing huge damage primarily to young people because they’re the ones that aren’t vaccinated.
“I think that’s a very big risk indeed, it’s not a risk I would take.
"I hope I am wrong and it doesn’t happen, but I wouldn’t be taking the risk.”
Canterbury is the worst-hit district in Kent, with rates rising by 185% in the last week to 267 cases per 100,000 people.
Much of this will be due to a huge outbreak on the city's Univeristy of Kent campus, which has seen 151 students contract the virus in the last week.
However, deaths across the county remain low, as just six people have died with Covid since the beginning of May.
Meanwhile, there are 11 Covid patients currently occupying beds in Kent hospitals.
British Medical Association council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was “incredibly concerning” for Mr Johnson to “decide to go full steam” despite warnings over rising hospitalisations and deaths.
He urged ministers to ensure the wearing of masks is compulsory “until the rampant spread of infection has been brought under control and more of the population are fully vaccinated”.
Meanwhile, Labour criticised the Prime Minister’s plan to gamble on public responsibility and the immunity from vaccines as “reckless” and called for him to maintain protections, such as mask wearing.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “To throw off all protections at the same time when the infection rate is still going up is reckless.
“We need a balanced approach, we need to keep key protections in place, including masks, including ventilation and crucially… proper payments to those who need to self isolate.”
This comes as the majority of Medway shoppers interviewed by KMTV yesterday revealed they will continue wearing face coverings, despite the change to government policy.
When approached by the channel, one said: "I definitely will – I think it will help protect everybody.
"We're not out of the woods yet and we don't know how it's going to go. I think it's responsible.
"As a nurse, I wear a mask every day, but I think it's the right thing to do."
A decision will be taken on Monday on whether to proceed with the proposals on July 19, but Mr Johnson believes it will go ahead as planned.
Speaking from Downing Street, he warned a further delay would “run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge” or “putting everything off to next year”.
“We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves: when will we be able to return to normal?” the Prime Minister said.
To boost the protection from vaccines, Mr Johnson ordered for the gap between vaccine doses for under-40s to be reduced from 12 weeks to eight.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will today set out plans to replace the requirement for entire school bubbles to isolate after a positive Covid contact with enhanced testing.
And Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will give an update on plans to remove the need for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries to isolate later in the week.