Lockdown makes way for confusion in England
Many COVID-19 restrictions in England have been lifted, despite the government admitting that case numbers will rise as a result. Three prominent Cabinet members have also been forced to spend the so-called Freedom Day self-isolating.
Social distancing rules no longer apply and face masks are no longer mandatory, though the Transport for London said masks remain compulsory for passengers. Many shops still request customers to wear masks.
On Saturday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid reported that he had tested positive for the virus and would be in self-isolation. It emerged the following day that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak had come into contact with him, but would not be self-isolating as they were taking part in a pilot daily testing program not yet available to the general public.
In an interview with Sky News, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick justified this by saying that the pilot is being used by around 20 organizations and they will be learning from it. But within hours, it was announced the pair would be in isolation after angry opposition from political opponents and the public.
Johnson later said he did look briefly at the idea of taking the alternative route, before deciding it was “far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules”.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today program, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi backed up this stance, saying that Johnson only “considered” joining the pilot initiative.
Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow health secretary, said there must be more clarity, telling Sky News that it was absolute chaos.
“It really was one rule for them and one for the rest of us,” he said.
“They’ve only U-turned because they’ve been caught out by this.” Ashworth added that there were lots of questions about this trial and who can access it.
Labour leader Keir Starmer called the decision to get rid of all the remaining rules at one time “reckless”.
“We can already see that the infection rates are going through the roof, we know what’s going to happen with hundreds of thousands of people being asked to self-isolate,”
ITV News quoted him as saying.
“The prime minister is essentially putting the whole nation into a car, pressing the accelerator and taking the seat belt off.”
Currently, there are around 50,000 infections per day across the United Kingdom, a figure that scientists have warned could rise to as high as 200,000 later in the summer.
In a video message posted on Twitter, Johnson insisted this is now the correct time to move out of lockdown, but urged people to exercise caution.
“If we don’t do it now, we’ve got to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it?” he said.
“But we’ve got to do it cautiously. We’ve got to remember that this virus is, sadly, still out there. Cases are rising, we can see the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant.”
Speaking on BBC One’s Breakfast program, Zahawi said it was important to strike a balance between caution and progress, and added that one of the next issues to be looked at would be vaccinations for teenagers aged 12 and older.
Following advice from the government’s joint committee on vaccination and immunization, he said he would be making a statement in Parliament about these vaccinations.