British PM Boris Johnson announces plan for ‘significant return to normality’ by Christmas

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday announced a plan for a “significant return to normality” in the U.K. as soon as Christmas — as the government looks to roll back the restrictions that were implemented in response to the coronavirus.

“It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas,” Johnson said.

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Johnson said that the plan was conditional on numbers continuing to stay low and avoid a second wave. But he said that for three weeks, the number of cases identified through testing each day has been below 1,000.

The U.K., one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, has been slowly re-opening, while also imposing new accompanying social distancing measures, such as mandating masks be worn in stores and on public transport — but not in offices.

Johnson said he wanted to adopt a more targeted approach, giving local authorities greater abilities to close premises and spaces, while also drafting regulations for how the government could impose local lockdowns or close sectors in an area where there is a spike in cases.

But for re-opening, he said that as of July 25, gyms, pools and other sports facilities will be open, and in August leisure activities such as skating, casinos, beauticians and bowling alleys would open.

Britain's Prime Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session, in parliament in London, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Britain’s Prime Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session, in parliament in London, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Employers will be given more discretion as to how staff could return to work safely, although the government continues to encourage people to work from home wherever possible.

In the fall, schools will re-open fully. Meanwhile, indoor performances will begin to re-open, and Johnson said he hopes that sports events will be able to have audiences come October.

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“Even as we plan for the worst, I strongly believe we should hope for the best,” he said.

The U.K. has a death toll of 45,000, the highest in Europe and one of the highest globally, and was also one of the countries to enforce some of the harshest lockdown measures in response to the virus.

There are fears that a bad flu season in the winter, combined with a coronavirus spike, could overwhelm the country’s National Health Service. Johnson announced that $3.8 billion would be put into the NHS to help it cope with any second wave, and specially made “Nightingale hospitals” which went largely unused will be kept open until March.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.