Why is Boris Johnson delaying England’s 21 June "freedom day" unlocking?

It looks like “freedom day” on 21 June will be pushed back. But what’s driving this decision, and what restrictions will remain?

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Boris Johnson is set to announce an extension to the current coronavirus restrictions this evening (14 June) in an attempt to mitigate a rise in cases of the Delta variant (formerly know as the Indian variant) of Covid-19. The Times reported this morning that the easing of lockdown restrictions originally planned for what some have dubbed “freedom day” on 21 June will be delayed for at least a further four weeks. The latest figures show that there has been a 49.3 per cent increase in case numbers in the last seven days, with 7,490 people testing positive on Sunday (13 June).

Why is the government considering a four-week extension to lockdown?

Despite 54.8 per cent of adults having now received two Covid-19 vaccine doses, there is still a two-fold risk of hospitalisations. First, those who have not received the vaccines will not be protected from the new Delta variant (although some may have antibodies from catching Covid-19 previously). Second, the vaccines are not 100 per cent effective, which means that some people who have received the vaccine will still be at risk of becoming ill, particularly if they have only received one dose.

[See also: Boris Johnson only has himself to blame for failure on Covid-19]

The government’s delay to the unlocking would allow more people, particularly the under-30s, to be vaccinated in June and July. This is important because younger people are more likely to mix and potentially spread the virus.

Will any restrictions be lifted on 21 June?

We don’t yet know the new unlocking plans but the Times reported last week that the government would lift restrictions on the number of attendees for weddings, which currently stands at 30. The limit for funerals was scrapped in the last stage of unlocking in May, but numbers are still constrained by the need for social distancing in venues and the limit of 30 still applies to events related to a funeral such as the wake.

Will any restrictions remain after the new date of unlocking?

All legal restrictions on social contact were planned to be lifted on 21 June. However, the government has not yet decided what rules would remain in place regarding guidance on measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing. The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said in the past that there may need to be “extra safeguards” on the final relaxing of restrictions.

[See also: Why the government is still arguing about the 21 June unlocking date]

What has to happen to make the government lift lockdown?

When the government announced its roadmap out of lockdown in February, it said the decision would be driven by “data not dates” and would be based on four tests: the success of the vaccine programme; evidence that the vaccines reduce deaths and hospitalisatons; no risk of a surge in cases placing unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and no change in the risk assessment due to new variants. The Delta variant seems to have busted the government’s fourth test.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce the changes at a 6pm press conference this evening.

[See also: How the Delta variant got its name: A “politically correct agenda” or a guard against hate crime?]

Freddie Hayward is a graduate trainee at New Statesman Media Group. 

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