How the 21 June reopening date became about more than data

The fear that delaying the end of lockdown will cause a political crisis is driving Tory MPs to oppose any change.

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The Delta variant (formerly the Indian variant) results in a higher rate of hospitalisations, according to a study by Public Health England. What does it mean for that 21 June reopening date? 

Scientists – including members of Sage, the ad hoc body which advises the government – are divided on whether the reopening can go ahead or not. Remember that there is still an awful lot we don't know: not least what level of vaccination we will have by that date. 

One reason why, in Wales, the First Minister Mark Drakeford is able to say they are in a position – at the moment – to continue reopening is that their “lean” vaccination strategy means they have managed to put even more jabs in arms per person than in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

[see also: What are the lessons of Welsh Labour’s remarkable success?]

One of the defining and most consistent failures of the coronavirus strategy in England has been a reluctance to learn from elsewhere: whether that it is the success of the south-east Asian democracies in containing the spread, or even the success of Wales in speeding up an already pretty fast vaccine roll-out. 

But its most consistent failure is the inability to make decisions quickly about travel: that’s why the Delta variant is so widespread in the United Kingdom, and why the 21 June reopening date is in some doubt. 

The fear that a failure to deliver on time would result in a political crisis is one reason why Conservative MPs well outside the bounds of the usual anti-lockdowners privately believe that the 21 June date must go ahead as planned, whatever the data might show. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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