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U.K. to bring back covid restrictions. Government says 'we don't want to go back'

Public health experts in the United Kingdom are calling on the government to reintroduce some coronavirus restrictions as cases climb - far outstripping those of its western European neighbours - despite the country's high vaccination coverage.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ended the lockdown in England on July 19, declaring it "Freedom Day." Since then, the country has lifted most restrictions, with no legal mask requirement in most settings, including schools, and nothing approaching a universal vaccine mandate, in sharp contrast with some other European countries.

In a speech in September laying out his government's plan for autumn and winter, Johnson said he would like things to continue that way, with an emphasis on promoting vaccinations, booster doses, and frequent testing, rather than reintroducing covid restrictions. However, he outlined a pandemic "Plan B" that he said could be necessary if the publicly funded National Health Service became overwhelmed. Some restrictions could then be introduced, including advising people to work from home, legally mandating face coverings in certain settings again, and bringing about mandatory covid passports.

However, the government, which has been keen to reopen the economy, has insisted that its current approach is working. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Wednesday that it was not the time for Plan B, adding: "What we want to do is manage the situation as it is - we don't want to go back into lockdown and further restrictions. I would rule that out."

The Cabinet Office said in an emailed statement: "The vaccination programme has significantly weakened the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths and will continue to be our first line of defence against COVID-19."

"We always knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our plan for Autumn and Winter last month."

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