If you were planning your first night out on the razz for 21st June, let’s hope it was only pencilled in. The date set back in March by the Prime Minister as the ‘earliest possible’ date the UK would totally return to normal will not go ahead as billed as the Indian variant takes hold and threatens a huge third wave.
The Prime Minister, back bucket-and-spade in hand from his Cornish jaunt, rolled down his trouser legs and met with his cabinet yesterday afternoon to make the final decisions as to our last stage of reopening. We’ll find out today what they’ve decided. But already, the rumours are flying. Here’s what we know…
Okay, so when will we find out what you’re about to tell me anyway?
The final decision (well, we’re assuming it’ll be final…) will be announced today in the daily news conference. Boris will no doubt be flanked by his ‘boffins’, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty.
The conference will reportedly happen at 6pm, an hour later than the usual ones, presumably to maximise the number of people watching. Or maybe just to fit around Wilfred’s tea time…
So what’s the new 21st June?
Assuming they go ahead with the leaked plan, the idea is to move to a new date of 19th July, which will represent a four week delay to the existing plan.
Will any further reopening happen on the 21st?
There are reports that there will still be some unlocking that does go ahead this month. The PM is said to be planning a mix and match approach that will allow for weddings and larger events to still benefit from more relaxed restrictions, though the current rules on face masks, on social distancing, rule-of-six and so on would still be in place.
So I shouldn’t cancel my wedding quite yet?
Well, this article will either look incredibly prescient or very stupid in just a matter of hours, but at this very moment all is not lost. Apparently 50,000 weddings are scheduled across Britain for the next four weeks as a huge backlog starts to unjam itself.
Worrabout big events?
The other exception being mulled is to lift the limits on outdoor seated spaces at sports events. Which effectively means the upcoming football and Wimbledon Championships. However, it may still kibosh music festivals.
What does this mean for hospitality?
Well the effects are several-fold. Firstly, anyone who relies on income from larger events then this will come as a blow, but even smaller restaurants and pubs will be affected by the the continued distancing and table-service rules.
For all the bars hoping to recoup some of the last year’s losses by packing in punters for the remainder of the Euros, this will be unwelcome news. Meanwhile, nightclubs will remain verboten for even longer, having been shut for approaching a year and a half.
Why on earth are we doing this (again)?
The original plan relied on four tests being met at each stage of unlockery. The vaccination programme had to be going well (it is), the NHS had to not be under pressure (currently it isn’t), the vaccines have to be effective (they are) and finally new variants mustn’t be floating around that threaten to derail the whole thing. And it’s this final point that seems to be unsettling scientists and ministers.
The so-called Indian Variant (renamed the Delta Variant, seemingly to save blushes but also raising the spectre of an entire alphabet of future variants), is on the rise and is now the dominant variant in the UK.
Is the Delta Variant much worse?
We don’t currently know. And this is why the PM is urging caution. The new variant is certainly more transmissible, around 50% more, which means that it’s spreading fast. Already it looks like case numbers are doubling every couple weeks and the R-number is above one again. Which is the start of a familiar pattern.
However, we haven’t yet seen a huge effect in hospitalisations or deaths, though scientists are predicting that this will follow, albeit hopefully a much lower level than previously.
But we have the vaccine…
Exactly. The vaccine appears to be very effective at combatting this new variant, with the vast majority of patients being unvaxxed or only having one dose.
And this is the reasoning for the delay. A final ‘heave’ to vaccinate as many people as we possibly can before flinging open the floodgates. The delay will mean that all over 40s will be double vaccinated by the time of reopening and pretty much everyone will have a single dose, which still has some effect on the new variant.
It is hoped that this will be the silver bullet…
But it’s not too bad now, right?
No, we’re staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, holding dinner parties, so things are certainly infinitely better than they were just a few short months ago. So it’s just a little further to go, one final heave. Let’s get jabbed and get this all over with…