PRIME Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that most of England's lockdown rules - including the legal requirement for masks - will end on July 19.

This decision is wrong for a number of reasons: the infection rate is rising, and experienced a surge when he broadcast his intention to lift the rules; more cases will lead to more pressure on the NHS; more people will get Long Covid, whose truly long term effects are not yet fully understood; and, high infection rates leading to a greater risk of new, and possibly more dangerous, variants emerging.

The Government’s new message to the public is contradictory, highlighted by their confused thinking on the wearing of masks.

What was a legal requirement is now merely an “expectation” for people to wear masks in crowded spaces, such as on trains.

We’ve gone from a law based on the concern to protect other, possibly more vulnerable people, to protecting an individual’s ‘freedom’ to feel more comfortable – ‘Freedom Day’ is what the Prime Minister calls the 19th.

Yet, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that anyone who would not wear a mask in an enclosed space was "just being irresponsible".

So which is it? As Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth responded: "Given Sajid Javid now considers it irresponsible to not wear masks then it would be equally irresponsible for his government to carry on with the plan to lift mask requirements while infections are heading to 100,000 a day."

The Government tries to justify lifting legal requirements on masks by implying that hospitals can cope with further rises.

Sajid Javid said that the NHS will not be overwhelmed.

I recall a previous Health Secretary saying the same thing. What the Government will not admit is that the NHS is already overwhelmed.

It is correct that hospital admissions, although high and rising, are lower than the peak of the second wave and patients are likely to be younger and require shorter periods of hospital treatment.

But that doesn’t take into account the record-high NHS hospital back-log of 5.3 million people waiting for routine operations and procedures, many with life-threatening or life-changing consequences, a figure that even the Health Secretary admits could more than double to 13 million.

The British Medical Association points to the Government’s lack of a recovery plan to deal with an exhausted workforce, including the greatly over-stretched GP service.

The Government plan, such as it is, relies on a vaccination programme that has given the crucial double dose to a majority of adults.

That leaves millions without and no one has 100 per cent immunity.

Other adults have had only one dose or none and the majority of younger people have had nothing. When masks are no longer compulsory and fewer people are allowed to choose to work from home public transport will become over-crowded again and more people are put at risk.

Where does that leave those, like my step-daughter, who work on the trains? And people with health conditions that prevent them being vaccinated are again pushed back.

The Prime Minister is urging us to use caution. He called for caution and ‘common sense’ in early stages of the pandemic but soon found it necessary to make good behaviour a legal requirement.

If caution is needed now why doesn’t he leave the necessary legal requirements in place to meet that need?

Current infection rates are high because in April the Prime Minister failed to use caution himself by letting the Delta variant, or the ‘Johnson variant’ as many prefer, into the UK when he refused to close the border to travellers from India.

Does he think the outcome of his recklessness then can be defeated by caution now?

Geraldine Reardon