Britain’s biggest step out of lockdown has arrived with a massive dash of déjà-vu as hugs, holidays and indoor pints and meals returned with the reopening of hospitality amid warnings the country might be loosening restrictions too soon.
Social distancing measures and restrictions remained in place on ‘Freedom Day’ as Britain’s big reopening was overshadowed by fears about the latest coronavirus “variant of concern”. It was first detected in India and is now spreading across Britain raising concerns that the final lifting of all restrictions on June 21 will now be delayed.
How the variant managed to get into the country has dominated debate and fingers have been pointing directly at Downing Street’s dithering to add India to the red list of countries requiring travellers to quarantine.
The Sunday Times reported that “at least 20,000 passengers who could have been infected with a virulent strain of Covid-19 were allowed to enter Britain while Boris Johnson delayed imposing a travel ban from India”.
UK’s borders are ‘about as secure as a sieve’, says Ashworth
Labour have called the delay in putting India on the red list a “catastrophic misstep” with Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary telling the Commons the UK’s borders are “about as secure as a sieve”.
“One month ago in this House I urged him to act quickly in response to this variant,” said Ashworth, referring to his opposite Matt Hancock.
“The Sanger Institute data today shows rapid increase in this variant – 30% of all sequenced cases in the UK – and that excludes cases from travel and surge testing.
“Alarm bells should be ringing because while he offers reassurance that vaccines are effective, we’ve also heard from Professor Anthony Harnden of the JCVI [Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation] recently who has warned that vaccines are ‘almost certainly less effective’ at reducing transmission of this variant.”
UK’s border policy is a joke, says Cummings
Dominic Cummings called the prime minister’s border policy a joke – almost exactly a year since his unprecedented press conference in the Downing Street rose garden justifying a lockdown trip to Durham and Barnard Castle, and hanging onto his job as Johnson’s chief spad.
In an extraordinary thread tweeted by Cummings the PM’s former right-hand man and strategist said that London’s SW1 postcode – home to Westminster, Whitehall, Buckingham Palace et al – are “totally hostile to learning from East Asia” no matter if they are right/left or “Remain/Leave”.
“There’s a general western problem based on nonsense memes like ‘asians all do as they’re told it won’t work here’, tweeted Cummings. “This is what many behavioural science ‘experts’/charlatans argued, disastrously, in Feb2020. This nonsense is STILL influencing policy, eg our joke borders policy”.
He was equally scathing – and provocative – by declaring that “pseudo lockdowns” – those without “serious enforcement” – “are hopeless” because lockdowns hit the economy hard and “people die anyway, [the] nightmare rumbles on”.
Hancock warned new variant could ‘spread like wildfire’
The health secretary revealed that the nightmare may yet get darker as 86 local authorities have now recorded five or more cases of the new variant. Surge testing is being carried out in Bedford, Bolton and Blackburn with Darwent after spikes in the number of cases detected.
Hancock had warned at the weekend the new variant could “spread like wildfire” among non-vaccinated people and yesterday (Monday) he told the Commons: “While we take this step [out of lockdown] today we must be humble in the face of this virus”.
Britain’s big reopening was due to the progress against the virus, said Hancock, stating there are now less than 1,000 patients in hospital for Covid, while the average number of daily deaths has plummeted to nine.
Hancock told MPs that of the people hospitalised in Bolton (19) and Blackburn (8) “the majority” had been offered a vaccine but had not yet taken up the offer, which the health secretary said was “frustrating to see” but it “reinforces the message that people should come forward and get vaccinated because that is the best way to protect everybody”.
Bolton’s infection rate higher now than at height of pandemic
His words and the government’s policy evidence how dependent on vaccines the UK’s recovery is and younger adults in the infection hotspots are being encouraged to get jabbed to try and curb the spread.
Especially in Bolton where the infection rate is higher now – when exiting the third lockdown – than it was in April at the height of the pandemic. It is currently nearly ten times higher than the national average – Bolton’s infection rate is 228.5 per 100,000 people, the UK average rates is 24.2 per 100,000.
The Bolton News reports “there have been 648 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic”.
It also states that “there has not been a coronavirus-related death at the Royal Bolton Hospital since Monday, April 26.”
In Scotland, the SNP government has kept Glasgow and the north eastern Moray in level three of the five-tier system of restrictions, as the rest of the country dropped to level two on Monday.
Holyrood’s decision was not replicated in Downing Street where Bolton, and the other identified variant of concern hotspot, Blackburn with Darwent, joined with the rest of the country celebrating the latest lifting of restrictions.
The easing saw loved allowed to hug each other for the first time in over a year; pubs, cafes and restaurants welcoming back indoor drinkers and diners; and, airplanes returning to the skies ferrying holidaymakers to a few of the dozen countries on the UK’s green list – the ones that will allow British holidaymakers in.
Such as Portugal and Gibraltar. But not Australia or New Zealand who have locked their borders down for far longer and far harder than the UK. Life has long returned to normal inside those countries, except for travel and tourists and visitors from other countries.
The result of their government’s decisions means that since January 3, 2020 Australia has registered 910 deaths of people with Covid-19, and New Zealand 26 deaths (which is 24.92 times fewer than Bolton).
Over the same period, the UK has recorded 127,679 deaths of people with Covid-19.