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16 July 2021

Why Boris Johnson is caught in a political trap on Covid-19

Even if the Prime Minister wanted to delay the reopening he would be forced to rely on Labour votes. 

By Stephen Bush

Been “pinged” yet? As England’s unlocking proceeds, the right-wing papers almost all have variations (or should that be “variants”?) on the same theme: the number of people being made to self-isolate following a positive coronavirus case among their contacts. 

[Hear more on the New Statesman podcast]

The biggest story of the bunch (declaring my interest here as someone who can occasionally connect to next-door’s Bluetooth speaker through the wall) is the Telegraph’s: that some people are being pinged through their neighbour’s walls, even if they have not had any face-to-face contact with them.  

[see also: How many people will delete the NHS app as self-isolation alerts rise?]

Alarming as that is for flat-dwellers, the real reason why so many people are getting pinged is that we still have a very high level of coronavirus cases, and while more than half the population has been jabbed twice, a considerable chunk has only been jabbed once. Provided that vaccinations are limiting onward transmission and breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations, a high number of cases is fine: but if you still have a large number of unvaccinated people, then you very rapidly end up back where you started, with overwhelmed hospitals and another lockdown, as Chris Whitty has warned.

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But Boris Johnson’s problem is that even if he were minded to delay things, he would have a major political fight on his hands. The criticisms in the Conservative press of the so-called pingdemic are just one symptom of the broader turn against further lockdowns and restrictions in much of the parliamentary party. If he wants to put the process into reverse, he would have to rely on Labour votes to do it: and no one who has observed this Prime Minister at all thinks there is any chance of that.