The UK will see the end of 18 months of Covid restrictions on July 19, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrapping laws on social distancing, mandatory masks and caps on gatherings and ending contact tracing for venues.
Dubbed Freedom Day, the decision comes as Britain recorded a fifth week of rising Covid cases to 27,000 but deaths remaining very low, in the single digits a day.
“If we don’t go ahead now when we we’ve clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link between infection and death,” he said.
“If we don’t go ahead now when the summer firebreak is coming up, the school holidays, all the advantages that that should give us in fighting the virus, then the question is, ‘when would we go ahead?’.
“Particularly given the likelihood the virus will have an extra advantage in the colder months, in the autumn, and in the winter.
“So we run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge, has an advantage in the colder months, or again putting everything off to next year so I do think it’s going to be a very balanced decision next week.”
A decision on quarantine rules for those with a double vaccination travelling to “amber list” countries will be made later this week.
The government will maintain the power to reimpose economic and social restrictions if the situation deteriorates later down the line.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the move was “reckless”.
“A balanced approach, a proper plan, would say keep key protections,” he said.
“One of them would be masks in enclosed places and on public transport – that’s a common sense position.
“More ventilation, that’s happening in other countries, is absolutely essential and proper payments for those that need to self-isolate.”
One of the main platforms for the decision lies in the high rate of vaccinations in the UK with two-thirds of the population set to have had two jabs by July 19.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said people “have gotten very aware of infection control and good hygiene over the last 16 months”.
“Some of the habits we’ve developed – washing hands more frequently, not going to work or not going to see people if you are feeling unwell – those are habits that it would be really great to continue because it will keep Covid under control, but also other infections as well,” he said.
New Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the announcement was “a restoration of so many of the freedoms that make this country great”.
“We will have a country that is not just freer, but healthier, too,” he said.
Javid recently replaced Matt Hancock after the former Health Secretary was caught flouting social distancing rules while he was cheating on his wife.