After deciding over the weekend to impose a two-week quarantine on Britons returning from Spain, Boris Johnson has pulled the hand brake once again. In a press conference alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty, the Prime Minister announced that in light of a rise in coronavirus cases he would be pausing aspects of lockdown easing that had been due in the coming days
While it remains the case that the working from home guidance will change so that people are encouraged to go to their workplace if their employer wants them to (including those who have been shielding), various hospitality measures have been put on pause. Bowling lanes, casinos and ice rinks will not open as planned while certain high contact beauty treatments will remain against the rules. Wedding receptions of 30 people are also on hold. These measures will now be reviewed for August 15.
Explaining the decision – which comes after the overnight announcement of an increase to local lockdowns – Johnson tried to offer reassurance that the country was still in a good place broadly when it comes to the infection rate. When asked whether this means summer is cancelled, he said this was far away from being the case and added that he still had hopes of getting a brief staycation in. Johnson repeated a new slogan – ‘hands, space, face’ – as a reminder to individuals to keep practising social distancing.
It was Whitty who had the most sobering words. He said ‘the idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong’ suggesting that the country is currently at ‘the outer edge of what we can do’. Johnson hinted at this when he insisted in the Q&A that reopening schools in September is a priority – as I explain in this week’s politics column, ministers believe other things could have to close to make this happen. Today’s announcement comes as the furlough scheme begins to be wound down. With the view in the Treasury that there cannot be an indefinite continuation of emergency measures, these delays are going to become more painful as times goes on.
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