Chances of Lockdown ‘Freedom Day’ Going Ahead in June ‘Close to Nil’: Report

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) speaks as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock (C) listens during a Cabinet Meeting at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on September 15, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jonathan Buckmaster - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Jonathan Buckmaster - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reportedly convene his cabinet to discuss whether the United Kingdom will actually see a full lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions next month, amid concerns about the so-called Indian variant of the virus.

While the PM has claimed that his “roadmap to freedom” will see a “cautious but irreversible” lifting of restrictions by June, government ministers are now expressing doubt over the feasibility of such a move.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock floated the idea of reverting back to the imposition of tiered system of regional lockdowns, similar to those seen last summer. He went on to say that it is “too early to tell” if phase four of the reopening plan will be able to go ahead in June as plan.

ITV News’ Robert Peston, who has close contacts in the government, claimed that ministers and other officials have expressed that the chances of returning to normal in June are now “close to nil”.

“It is clear some social distancing will have to be retained, not everything we’ve set out for 21 June is likely to happen,” a government adviser told Peston, warning that “it is also possible some of the easing we’ve done… will have to be reversed.”

On Monday, Britons were finally permitted to dine indoors at pubs and restaurants, travel internationally, and attend limited openings of theatres, sports stadiums, and music venues under the ‘phase three’ stage of the reopening plan.

Social distancing requirements and limits on gatherings remain in place, however, with the expected lifting to take place on June 21st.

Government officials have said that this will be contingent on whether a surge in rapid coronavirus testing and expanding of vaccines to younger people will be sufficient in stemming the spread of the Indian variant.

The government will also take into consideration how effective the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is in preventing the novel variant, as well as how quickly the Indian variant is transmitted through the population.

2,323 cases of the Indian strain of the coronavirus had reportedly been identified in England as of Tuesday, four times higher than were detected ten days ago.

At a Downing Street briefing on Friday, Boris Johnson said: “I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June. And I must stress that we will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe.”

Should the Prime Minister actually go back on his word and fail to life restrictions on June 21st, it could be politically devastating for Mr Johnson.

One Cabinet minister told the Daily Mail that it could become Boris Johnson’s “Theresa May moment”, referring to the former Prime Minister’s failure to meet her Brexit deadline.

“This freedom date is burned on people’s brains in the same way as her date for leaving the EU,” the source said.

“When she missed it, she was finished.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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