Lockdown Forever: UK’s ‘Freedom Day’ to be Delayed up to a Month: Report

A woman wearing a protective face mask passes a billboard showing Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Manchester, north-west England on November 6, 2020, as the second lockdown comes into force in England. - A united effort to tackle spiking coronavirus infection rates has been called for as 56 million …
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “roadmap to freedom” is set to be postponed by two weeks to a month, a report from a leading British newspaper claimed.

A reportedly “downbeat” briefing given to government ministers by chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Monday warned of the limitations of vaccines at slowing the spread of the Chinese virus and the dangers of emerging variants such as the so-called Indian variant.

A cabinet source — unnamed in the report — said that following the meeting, it is expected that Boris Johnson will announce a delay on lifting lockdown restrictions by “between two weeks and a month,” according to the London Times.

The source told the paper that there is a sentiment that the political fallout from delaying the return to freedom will be mitigated if restrictions are lifted in time for the beginning of the school holiday season in July.

Another cabinet source said: “We always said it was June 21 at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold. Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”

Witty and Valance reportedly said that the delay would give the government time to ensure that all those over the age of 50 have been fully vaccinated and are given enough time for the jabs to take hold.

The lifting of lockdown restrictions, including the removal of social distancing requirements, mask-wearing diktats, and limits on the number of people allowed to attend public and private gatherings, was intended to go ahead on June 21st.

However, top government officials including Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have hinted over the past month that the government may need to delay the “freedom day” for Britons.

On Sunday, Mr Hancock said that the government is “absolutely open” to the idea of extending lockdown restrictions, but added that it is still too early to tell whether it will be deemed necessary.

At a Downing Street briefing in May, 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.”

There have also been increasing calls from the scientific establishment to maintain restrictions, including from Nervtag advisory group member Professor Ravi Gupta, who has called for a supposedly short delay in order to prevent restrictions from being reimposed later in the summer.

Gupta has also argued that the lifting of restrictions could enable the Indian variant to spark a “third wave” of the coronavirus.

“I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way,” Gupta said last month.

On Monday, Britain’s health authorities recorded 5,683 coronavirus cases, up from 3,165 the week prior, however, there was only one death in the whole country recorded yesterday.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there is currently “nothing in the data” to suggest that the “Step Four” June 21st reopening date must be pushed back.

“We do need to look very closely at the data over this coming week, which will be crucial, particularly on hospitalisations and whether or not the excellent vaccine rollout programme has sufficiently severed that link between the increase in cases, which we always expected to happen, particularly after Step Three, and that subsequently leading to hospitalisations and deaths,” the spokesman said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for his part, said that “one day soon freedom will return.”

In response to the report, Reform Party leader Richard Tice said that there should be no delay to lifting restrictions, writing on social media that “millions already ignoring unnecessary govt restrictions [and] millions more will say enough is enough on June 21st.

“Ministers in Westminster no idea of collateral damage, excess non-Covid deaths, pain caused, jobs & firms ruined,” Tice added.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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