Trends in the fight against COVID-19 are "very positive," even with cases high, putting England on course for a "more permissive phase" as the mandatory face mask rule is dropped this month, said U.K. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.
The government hopes to remove remaining legal restrictions on July 19, and the rules in place to tackle the virus are set to become "matters of personal choice," Jenrick said Sunday on Sky News.
"It will be a different period where we as private citizens make these judgments rather than the government telling you what to do," he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out the way forward in the coming days, he told the Trevor Phillips on Sunday show. The Sunday Telegraph earlier reported that Johnson has signed off on a series of measures on how the country will live with coronavirus, including the removal of compulsory mask wearing.
Contagious Delta variant
Daily COVID-19 cases in the U.K. have jumped in the past month as the more contagious delta variant spreads, but hospital admissions and deaths haven't followed.
There were almost 25,000 new cases reported Saturday, the sixth day in a row that new infections topped 20,000 - levels not seen since January.
The U.K.'s vaccine program, especially among older people who are more likely to suffer severe health problems from the coronavirus, has limited the impact of the new outbreak. More than 85% of adults have had at least one vaccine and about 65% have had both.
"Cases are rising and that should make us cautious, but it isn't translating into serious illness and death," Jenrick said in a separate interview on BBC Television's Andrew Marr Show.
"It does feel as if we are now in the final furlong, in a period in which we can start to live with the virus and move on with our lives. In England, our view is that things are looking positive for July 19."
Jenrick's comments came as newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the health arguments for ending restrictions were just as compelling as the economic ones.
"The pandemic has hit some groups disproportionately hard," Javid wrote in the Mail on Sunday. "Rules that we have had to put in place have caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people's mental health."
The opposition Labour Party is eager for the country to open again but wants to see the scientific evidence underpinning any changes to the current rules, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told Marr.