If you’re already planning to cover your face in blue woad and yell ‘FREEDOM’ out of your bedroom window at midnight on 19th July, then today marks a milestone. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reveal exactly what your freedom will entail this afternoon.
But why wait for the actual announcement when you could read magazine articles regurgitating what other people have guessed or been leaked, and the reality is that the PM, the cabinet and the wonks are probably still deciding the finer details at this very moment.
Life feels pretty normal, what’s left to ease?
Since the last relaxation of covid restrictions, back in May, the world has felt pretty ‘back to normal’, after all we can eat, shop, travel (within the UK) so what’s left?
There's plenty of businesses still being throttled by the current restrictions...
Tell that to the owner of a nightclub. There’s plenty of businesses still being throttled by the current restrictions. Like events companies, normally catering for summer events but currently limited to 30 guests. Clubs, live music venues, and even bars who are still not allowed to entertain ‘vertical drinkers’ are all still affected.
When will Boris make his announcement?
The announcement will be in his classic pre-Neighbours slot of 5pm. If you gathered, like it was The Blitz, around your wireless to hear Boris’s ‘You must stay at home’ speech 18 months ago this will, hopefully, feel like a perfect full-circle moment as Britons prepare for the ‘VE Day’ accompaniment.
Tune in wherever you get your live news.
And that’s pretty much where our ‘facts’ end. Let’s move onto complete supposition. Like…
Can I burn my mask now?
It’s likely that the PM will announce the end of mandatory mask-wearing. This visible sign of the ongoing pandemic has been in the government’s sights for a while and it’s expected that masks will become optional.
But it’s also quite possible that Boris won’t go so far as to suggest that masks should be jettisoned entirely.
On this morning’s Today programme the chairman of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said that it “makes no sense” to stop wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces amid a rising number of cases of the Delta variant
‘We know that face masks are proven to reduce spread of this infection” and “can’t understand why – at a time where there are ‘exceptional high levels of cases’ – we would “knowingly want people to become infected”.
Whatever the government decides, it’s incredibly likely that people will continue to wear masks on in enclosed spaces. I suspect you won’t take an underground journey in the next decade where someone isn’t wearing a face covering.
Is the tube about to get a bit… coughy?
Anyone who loves their personal space, look away. The rules around social distancing will also be reviewed and likely ditched. They stand in the way of the reopening of theatres and live music venues, they’re holding back bars and restaurants from operating at full capacity and they’re limiting how many people can go into Wholefoods at one time.
You'll be able to legally go within a metre of a stranger...
It’s likely that on 19th July you’ll be able to legally go within a metre of a stranger. Should you want to.
Rule of six, please say it’s going…
Almost certainly the PM will address the rules governing numbers of people who can meet. Currently that’s upto six (the so-called ‘rule of six’) indoors and uptown 30 outdoors unless you’re at a wedding or a football match.
Boris will want to jettison these rules, but will probably stress the importance of ventilation, being sensible and (of course) washing your hands.
And am I going to be WFH-ing forever?
This will be interesting to know the answer to, with many businesses hanging on Bojo’s words here.
Last summer the government urged workers back into their offices, arguably contributing to the next wave of infections that proved so deadly (although this can also be put at the feet of new variants, Eat Out To Help Out and schools going back, so we’ll likely never fully be sure).
There have been different voices coming out of government on this front. A recent front page headline suggested that WFH might even be enshrined in law, if workers want to (and the nature of the work lends itself to this – obviously you can’t be a shipbuilder from home).
But much of business is desperate for clarity here and are keen to get their workers back into the office. Watch this space…
What about travel?
In all likelihood a punch the government might pull is around international travel. Despite noise from a travel industry seriously suffering from the incredibly short Green List, there are probably going to be ongoing travel restrictions going forward.
It was Boris's perceived inaction when it came to international travel from India in the wake of the Delta Variant that's blamed for the current wave of infections...
After all, it was Boris’s perceived inaction when it came to international travel from India in the wake of the Delta Variant that’s blamed for the current wave of infections. So if one measure remains in place it’ll be some form of limitation on where and when we can fly.
Even if we don’t do this, it’s likely Brits will remain personas non grata in much of the world hoping to avoid Delta, especially those in Europe who lag being us in jabbing their populations.
And self isolation? Surely we’re not free if we’re locked away?
This is a tricky one. Even the most vocal anti lockdown opponent must admit that surely letting full blown covid patients roam the pubs and cinemas of the country is a broadly bad idea?
Surely letting full blown covid patients roam the pubs and cinemas of the country is a broadly bad idea?
It may be that the government tweaks the rules around isolation. Allowing double vaxxed adults more leeway if they’re pinged for instance. It may be that the PM doesn’t mention it at all!
Isn’t this going to push up the COVID numbers?
Basically, yes. The government is expecting the numbers to rise, potentially quite significantly, as the new rules come into place. This should be factored into any plans, but ultimately Boris is going to reason that we can’t go on like this indefinitely.
The main thrust of the government’s argument is likely to be that while the covid numbers are soaring and Britain enjoys its third wave, the numbers of hospitalisations and particularly deaths are remaining pretty steady and managably low (remember the PM’s tests). Indeed, many dying or seriously ill now are people who refused to have the vaccine.
However, there are some blindsides to this argument. Firstly we aren’t vaccinating children, and this is where covid is running amok. And also high covid figures mean higher likelihood of nasty variants emerging, which might affect unvaxed children or could learn to evade the vaccine.
Hopefully this will all be factored into the relaxation. Let’s see…