Today’s big question

When will England’s lockdown end?

No. 10 plays down talk of early end to restrictions

Downing Street has denied suggestions that the end of coronavirus restrictions in England could be brought forward from 19 July.

A spokesperson for the prime minister told reporters that “we will monitor case data day by day to see if moving forward after two weeks is possible”, but noted that more people are being treated in intensive care units and “the seven-day average for hospitalisations also continues to rise”.

The intervention came after the BBC reported that Boris Johnson had earlier said the 19 July deadline for all restrictions to come to an end was “looking good”.

During a visit to a testing laboratory in Hertfordshire, the prime minister said: “You can never exclude that there will be some new disease, some new horror that we simply haven’t budgeted for, or accounted for.

“But looking at where we are, looking at the efficacy of the vaccines against all variants that we can currently see - so Alpha, Delta, the lot of them, Kappa - I think it’s looking good for July 19 to be that terminus point.”  

The new ‘terminus date’

England’s so-called Freedom Day, originally scheduled for 21 June, was last week delayed as cases of the new Delta Covid variant continue to increase.

Appearing at a press conference last week, Johnson told the nation that thousands of deaths can be avoided by pushing back the final step out of lockdown, which would have included the reopening of nightclubs and the end of limits on social gatherings.

The new date in the diary is 19 July, described by Johnson as “the terminus date”. By then, every adult should have had at least one vaccination and two-thirds should have received two doses.

Johnson last week said the government would be monitoring the situation daily and if after two weeks, around 5 July, “we have concluded that the risk has diminished, then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four and a full opening sooner”. 

However, the possibility now appears unlikely after the prime minister’s spokesperson today told reporters: “The data we are looking at - 10,000 cases recorded for the third day in a row on Saturday - is the highest level since 2 February”.

A later reopening

The prime minister was “doing the best impression he could of his old bullishness” as he last week announced that, “barring any unforeseeable new variants”, he was “confident” that the government would not need to go beyond the four weeks, says The Telegraph’s sketch writer Michael Deacon. 

But he adds: “Note the caveat. Once again, a nation crosses its fingers, and sighs.”

Johnson’s refusal to exclude the possibility that there might be “some new variant that is far more dangerous, that kills people in a way that we currently cannot foresee or understand” is unlikely to placate some Tory MPs who worry that scientists will push for a further delay. Some even fear that restrictions could be in place until spring.

Asked in the Commons last week if the government had ruled out reintroducing restrictions in the autumn and winter, Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not answer the question directly. But he said a goal of eradicating Covid-19 was “impossible” and, therefore, “we must learn how we can live our normal lives with this virus”.

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