There will be a “much more permissive regime” of coronavirus measures in England – with the wearing of face masks a “personal choice”, a minister has told Sky News.

Speaking to Sky News amid reports that Boris Johnson is preparing to ease the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England from 19 July, Robert Jenrick said the success of the UK’s vaccination programme means the government is “able to think about how we can return to normality as much as possible”.

The housing secretary told the Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme that “we are not going to put the COVID-19 virus behind us forever, we’re going to have to learn to live with it”.

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Doctors call for some COVID measures to stay

Mr Jenrick said the data at the moment “looks very positive”, ahead of a final decision from the prime minister on whether step four of England’s roadmap out of COVID restrictions will take place on 19 July.

He continued: “It does seem as if we can now move forward and move to a much more permissive regime where we move away from many of those restrictions that have been so difficult and learn to live with the virus.”

According to reports in the Sunday newspapers, face masks and social distancing will no longer be required once step four comes into effect.

Asked about face masks, Mr Jenrick said: “Like many people, I want to get away from these restrictions as quickly as I possibly can.

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“We don’t want them to stay in place for a day longer than is necessary.

“We are going to now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions – the state won’t be telling you what to do – but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement.

“So different people will come to different conclusions on things like masks, for example.”

He stressed it would be a matter of “personal choice”, adding that he would not be wearing one once it is no longer mandatory.

The minister’s comments come after the British Medical Association said some prevention measures – such as face masks and improved public messaging – should remain after step four to stop the current “alarming” rise in cases.

The BMA council’s chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said easing restrictions should not be an “all or nothing” decision, and that “sensible, cautious” measures will be vital to minimising the impact of further waves, new variants and lockdowns.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Sky News he will keep wearing his face mask as it is something that is “extremely valuable to do under certain circumstances”.

“On a personal level I shall certainly be continuing to wear a mask if I’ve got any symptoms or if I’m in an enclosed space with lots of other people for a prolonged period of time, indefinitely in fact,” he said.

Professor Finn added that widespread mask-wearing during the pandemic has had some positive effects apart from helping tackle the spread of COVID.

Prof Finn explained: “I think we learned, as paediatricians, we learned that we can avoid massive problems with children getting sick in the winter by doing these kind of measures.

“We simply didn’t see the epidemics of respiratory viruses last winter that we’ve seen every year throughout my career.”