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Why delaying the 21 June unlocking is such a political headache for Boris Johnson

If the Delta variant is ruining the UK’s path out of lockdown, the blame for that lies at the Prime Minister’s door.

By Stephen Bush

Should the 21 June unlocking be delayed? Some scientists and medical experts are urging Boris Johnson to push back the date of England’s unlocking, so that the vaccine programme could be more advanced – particularly so that all over-50s have received not one, but two jabs – before the final wave of freedoms are permitted.

Others believe that the impact of the vaccine programme is such that the consequence of a more transmissible virus on people’s health and NHS capacity would be small. (The Times has an excellent read-through of the various positions.)

The most important area of scientific consensus is this: we’ll have a better idea of whether or not England is in a position to go ahead with the 21 June unlocking on 14 June than we do today, and that the biggest priority is to push on with the vaccination programme.

But the politics are considerably more fraught. Large numbers of Conservative MPs have a “this far, no further” position as far as lockdowns are concerned, and as far as they are concerned, the 21 June date has to be met.

[See also: Can Matt Hancock survive? Here are two reasons why he might]

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Many more note if the Delta variant is delaying the United Kingdom’s lockdown, then the blame for that has to be located at the Prime Minister’s door: he kept India off the red list for the best part of a fortnight, his government still hasn’t established meaningful central quarantine or adequate compensation for self-isolation, and so on.

And others fear that, whatever the science, a delay to 21 June will do irrevocable damage to the government’s standing: that it would, at a stroke, puncture the feel-good factor around unlocking, and break the public’s appetite for extending the benefit of the doubt to Boris Johnson and his administration.

The bigger picture is this: while our own vaccine roll-out proceeds at great speed and efficiency, throughout the United Kingdom in general but in Wales in particular, a global pandemic can’t be defeated by a British vaccine programme. If we don’t have a global vaccination programme, then we don’t have an enduring way to escape the Covid-19 era: a disease that has already killed more than three million people worldwide, and that without global vaccination programmes will retain the ability to paralyse life as we know it in the United Kingdom as well as overseas.

[See also: Boris Johnson’s biggest asset is that most people never want to think about Covid-19 again]