LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered Britons their first detailed glimpse of what a post-pandemic society might look like on Monday, announcing free twice-weekly coronavirus tests in England and Covid status certificates that would allow people with immunity into crowded nightclubs and sporting events.
The plans were the next step in the British government’s cautious reopening of the economy, and its first effort to tackle thorny questions about how to distinguish between people who are protected against the virus and those who are still vulnerable, as the country edges back toward normalcy.
“I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,” Mr. Johnson said at a news conference at 10 Downing Street, as he listed the next round of relaxed restrictions.
Trying to strike a balance between public health and personal liberties, he said Britain would design a system to certify the Covid status of anyone seeking to enter higher-risk settings. While pubs and nonessential shops might be allowed to demand proof of Covid-free status, they will not be required to do so.
With more than 31 million people having gotten at least one vaccine jab, and the country still largely in lockdown, Britain has dramatically driven down its new cases, hospital admissions and deaths from the virus. As a result, Mr. Johnson’s focus has shifted to managing a steadily more open society.
Among his most ambitious plan is to offer free rapid testing kits to the entire population, so people can test themselves routinely. The kits, already used by hospitals and schools, will be available by mail or at pharmacies.
Public health experts applauded the gradual pace of government’s measures, which they said were appropriate for a country in which the virus was still circulating, even with declining death rates and a rapid vaccine rollout. But they expressed skepticism about the testing program, questioning whether people would have the incentive to put themselves through a test twice a week.
“Testing only works if people isolate, based on a positive result,” said Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh. “But if they can’t go to work and will lose income, what’s the incentive to get tested?”
Britain’s experience with testing and tracing has been among the most abysmal parts of its pandemic performance. Even now, experts said, it only isolates between a quarter and a half of those who come into contact with people who test positive for the virus.