New UK lockdown rules: will June 21 lifting of restrictions be delayed?
Four-week delay to 'Freedom Day' likely owing to rapid spread of Delta variant
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a four-week delay to the complete lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England on June 21.
His decision to push back the final date in the country's Covid plan comes amid concerns about the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
The news will be a bitter pill to swallow for many businesses in the hospitality sector which were pinning their hopes on so-called Freedom Day.
Despite indoor hospitality reopening on May 17, many businesses are still unable to make a profit because of continuing restrictions on numbers in their premises.
For some, June 21 did not go far enough.
Freedom Day is independent of the UK's traffic light for travel system. This means that many businesses in Britain's tourist sector will continue to struggle while international travel is subject to rule perceived by many as being too stringent.
Earlier in June, London Heathrow Airport said Portugal’s sudden removal from the green list risked sending a message that the UK “remains isolated from the rest of the world”.
UK lockdown rules: why four-week delay is happening
Throughout the pandemic, lines have been drawn between public health and the economy.
But with data tilting the balance in favour of vaccines over the virus, why are scientists like Chris Whitty – the Chief Medical Officer for England – still urging caution?
It is because of the Delta variant, which a leading UK epidemiologist says is potentially 60 per cent more infectious than the strain first identified in the UK.
“The best estimate at the moment is this variant may be 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha (UK) variant,” Imperial College London's Prof Neil Ferguson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
“It partially escapes vaccine immunity, although there is still a good deal of protection, and may well cause severe disease from the hospitalisation data reported.
“It could be anywhere from 30 to 100 per cent more [transmissible], but 60 per cent is a good central estimate.”
The Delta variant is now the dominant strain in the UK with more than 9,000 cases detected in the week ended June 5. This compares to just over 1,200 cases of the previously dominant Alpha variant.
When England's route out of Covid-19 restrictions was announced, the Delta variant was not on the horizon.
Scientists are divided on the threat posed by the Delta variant but with less than half of the UK population fully vaccinated, many feel that June 21 comes too soon and risks a sharp increase in deaths and hospital admissions.
Current UK vaccination rates mean about another nine million people could be fully vaccinated in four weeks' time.
To date, nearly 30 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Government data suggests that vaccines have broken the link between Covid deaths ...
... and Covid-related hospital admissions.
Some politicians believe the government is attempting a zero-Covid policy by stealth, rather than calibrating measures to protect the economy.
The UK economy has been suffering badly since the start of the pandemic, and of all the major economies it slumped the most in the second quarter of 2020.
More than a year of Covid-19 and its attendant lockdowns have deprived the public purse of £251 billion ($355.23bn) – equivalent to nearly twice the annual output of Scotland, the Centre for Economics and Business Research said.
UK lockdown rules: what restrictions were set to be lifted?
Back in February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was on a "one-way road to freedom".
The UK Covid road map had four stages that eased Covid restrictions gradually.
The three preceding stages went ahead as planned, leaving only June 21 in question.
If it went ahead, all limits on social contact were to be lifted and nightclubs allowed to reopen.
Restrictions were also to be lifted on large events and performances, weddings and other life events.
Guidance on working from home was also to end, along with mask wearing and social distancing.
If the one-metre distance rule was ditched, people could move around venues freely with gathering no longer limited to six people.
This is the rule that has most exercised businesses working in the hospitality sector as it means they cannot operate at full capacity, and thus cannot make as much money.
Masks have also become a divisive phenomenon.
To some, they are a just a bit a fabric, symbolising concern for others. To others, they are "muzzles", symbols of oppression and a heavy handed state. Desmond Swayne, an MP for Mr Johnson's Conservative Party called them a "monstrous imposition" last year.
Mask refuseniks are subject to a £200 fine for failing to wear them in indoor public spaces, and this will continue for at least another four weeks.
UK lockdown rules: will any restrictions be lifted on June 21st?
The extension to restrictions is likely to come with some exemptions, namely in the wedding sector which has endured a dreadful last 12 months.
Currently weddings are subject to a 30-person limit but this is likely to be scrapped.
More outdoor seated and cultural events with large crowds will be permitted, too.
Updated: June 14, 2021 07:33 PM