In Depth

Reaction: PM says ‘hibernation at an end’ as experts warn of second Covid wave

Two-thirds of voters back Boris Johnson’s plan to reopen hospitality sector - but many scientists are worried

Boris Johnson is celebrating the beginning of the end of the UK’s “long national hibernation” as his government prepares for the next stage of easing the coronavirus lockdown.

From 4 July, pubs, restaurants, hotels and barbers in England can reopen, and the two-metre social distancing rule will be reduced to one metre, the prime minister announced on Tuesday.

Members of two households will also be allowed to meet indoors, and may stay overnight as guests, as long as they practise social distancing.

The planned changes have met with both joy and concern. In an open letter to ministers published in the British Medical Journal, health leaders including the presidents of the royal colleges of surgeons and nursing are calling for an urgent review to determine whether the UK is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of Covid-19.

But the warning hasn’t worried the country’s tabloids, which are celebrating the impending easing of lockdown restrictions.

“Summer’s back on!” says the Daily Mail’s front page, while the Daily Express opts for “Cheers Boris! Here’s to a brighter Britain.” 

Metro goes with “Get the beers in! (and Boris can have a haircut at last”). The Sun also applauds Johnson’s decision to reopen pubs, leading with the headline “Vast orders”.

The Guardian’s John Crace says the next phase of lockdown lifting allows the PM to return to his prefered role as “Mr Fun”.

“For someone whose whole life seems to have been spent trying to explain his way out of awkward situations, the prime minister is notably averse to confrontation and passing on bad news,” writes Crace.

“He is the country’s Mr Fun. The Cheerer-Upper in Chief. The Mr Motivator who lets the good times roll. So a statement on relaxing many of the country’s lockdown rules was just up his street.”

A snap YouGov poll following Johnson’s announcement suggests that voters are generally in favour of the changes. Of the 2,264 adults quizzed, 64% backed the reopening of pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas and other venues, with 29% “somewhat opposed” or “strongly opposed” to the plan. 

And 73% supported the change to allow two separate households to meet up indoors, with just 20% opposed.

“It would seem, then, that the public’s attitudes towards lifting the lockdown are converging with those of the government,” writes Matthew Smith, lead data journalist at YouGov, in The Times. “But that is not the same as thinking that the crisis has been handled well.”

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Indeed, net approval for the UK government’s management of the coronavirus outbreak “is the fourth-worst in the world - tied with Trump’s America on minus ten”, says Smith.

Only 7% of Britons “think the changes do not go far enough”, he adds. 

This minority includes The Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs, who says that “this was Boris Johnson’s moment to declare to the nation that the overwhelming evidence suggests lockdown was a mistake”. 

Instead, he “did the exact opposite”, downplaying it as something akin to a “hibernation”.

“In truth, we shot ourselves in the foot with lockdown,” Jacobs concludes. “That speech was the sound of Britain shooting itself in the other one.”

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