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Step 4 confirmed: events free to run from 19 July, but caution urged

Prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that restrictions in England will be lifted on 19 July, with social distancing no longer a legal requirement.

Crowd restrictions have also been removed, meaning that events will no longer have their capacities capped.

However, the prime minister said that face coverings would be recommended in indoor venues, and that organisers should consider using the NHS app as means of Covid-status certification, although this is very much up to the individual organiser or venue.

Government guidance (rather than regulation), which is yet to be updated, will say people are 'expected and recommended' to keep wearing masks in crowded places, while any return to offices this summer should only be 'gradual'.

From 19 July

  • No capacity caps
  • No requirement for social distancing
  • Masks encouraged but not mandatory
  • Covid-status certification via the NHS app encouraged, to be determined by the risk assessment between organiser and venue
  • Track and trace sign-in optional, again determined by the risk assessment between organiser and venue

The prime minister urged caution, and said: “We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”

Employers and event organisers will have the power to decide whether to make face coverings compulsory. The same is true for Covid-status certification – proof of vaccination, negative test or natural antibodies – which the prime minister said should still be used at “major events”. He did not specify what qualifies as a major event, but implied it was optional. The NHS app holds this information, but it is not clear how those without smartphones can prove Covid-status certification. Venues and organiser will need to agree between themselves whether to apply the need for the certification.

Commenting on the move prime minister Johnson said: “As a matter of social responsibility we are urging night clubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS app, which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity as a means of entry.”

It will no longer be a legal requirement to scan a QR code upon entry to a venue as part of the test and trace system. However, venues and organisers will be allowed to make use of the codes a requirement for entry if they choose or require it as part of their risk assessment. 

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, conference and exhibition centres will be permitted to reopen from 26 July. Scotland and Wales have yet to commit to an unlocking date.

Learn how to do a Covid-19 risk assessment here.