When Boris Johnson first unveiled his roadmap out of lockdown, there was a promise of an end to restrictions by 21 June. That date was quickly dubbed ‘freedom day’ online and in the press. However, many of the tricky decisions on social distancing, travel abroad and IDs were pushed later down the line into various government reviews. Today, the Prime Minister offered an update. Johnson had some good news — confirming that phase two of the roadmap would go ahead on 12 April. But his address also pointed to how there is unlikely to be a quick bounce back to normal come 21 June.
While Johnson stressed several times that the roadmap is still ‘on target’ and said there is nothing in the data to suggest the stages would be delayed, the findings of the various reviews point to restrictions in some form lasting into the summer and beyond. After the government announced plans to encourage all adults to be tested twice a week for Covid, it appears that despite previous denials by ministers immunity IDs are coming. While Johnson stressed that nothing has been finalised, the review published to accompany today’s announcement has concluded that Covid-status verification ‘could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally’ as a temporary measure.
Although the initial scheme will look at how to use Covid passports to unlock mass events, they could also be used to reopen hospitality. Johnson said vaccine passports would not be a feature in the coming weeks, instead the government is looking at introducting them in time for the great June unlocking when they hope to lift most restrictions. With cross-party opposition building, Johnson would not commit to a Commons vote on the issue when asked about it in the Q&A. He suggested this line of questioning was premature despite the fact the review confirms plans for vaccine passports and many MPs have already voiced opposition. Were Labour to oppose the measure, the government would struggle to get the vaccine passports proposal through the Commons.
The immunity certification review is tied in with the social distancing review. Chris Whitty pointed to Chile — where the country has had a very fast vaccination programme but also suffered a spike in infections — as a warning that vaccination alone does not fix everything. However, Vallance sought to calm some nerves by saying that remaining measures could simply mean things like increased hand hygiene.
On international travel, Johnson attempted to hit an optimistic note. He suggested it could be possible from 17 May and said there would be a traffic light system keeping track of which countries Britons could visit. However, he would not commit to a date for this starting — let alone which countries Brits would be allowed to travel to.
Monday’s announcement offered an update on the reviews — but not their conclusion. It confirmed the direction of travel — with vaccine passports coming up the track and social distancing unlikely shortly. Although Johnson was insistent that the roadmap is on course, he also suggested a return to normal is some way off. He said that by 21 June, life ought to get back to ‘some semblance of normality’ for most people. A semblance of normality is not quite the full normal that many of Johnson’s own MPs are banking on.
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