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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.

By Stephen Bush

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. 

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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. 

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