Covid: 1m plus rule could end from 21 June, says Johnson
Posted on May 3rd, 2021

Courtesy BBC

There is a “good chance” the 1m plus social distancing rule can be scrapped on 21 June in England, the prime minister has said.

Boris Johnson said the results of the vaccine rollout are “really starting to show up in the epidemiology” – but any change would depend on the data.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed that caution was necessary.

Mr Johnson also suggested there could be some “opening up” of foreign travel on 17 May.

During a campaign visit to Hartlepool the prime minister said ministers would say more about travel “as soon as we can” but “we have got to be very, very tough”.

He said that “the way things are going” with the vaccine rollout, the 1m plus rule – which allows people to be 1m apart if they take extra precautions such as wearing face coverings – could end when England reaches the final step of its roadmap out of lockdown.

Mr Johnson said 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered. That includes more than 34 million people who have had a first dose and more than 15 million who have had a second, according to the latest government figures.

He said he felt as though the next stage of reopening on 17 May – which covers indoor hospitality, entertainment and possibly foreign travel – would “be good”.

“I think we have got a good chance of being able to dispense with the 1m plus from 21 June,” he added.

“That is still dependent on the data, we can’t say it categorically yet. We have got to look at the epidemiology as we progress, we have got to look at where we get to with the disease. But that’s what it feels like to me right now.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said any easing of social distancing measures would have to be “cautious and careful”.

“All of us want to see the restrictions eased but also want to make sure we don’t go into another lockdown,” he said.

“I will listen to what scientists say – there are a number of weeks to run until 21 June. I hope we get to situation we can ease restrictions but have got to be led by science.”

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Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

Are we are on the brink of beating the virus? Talk of foreign travel and the end of social distancing raises the very real prospect we are.

It would be foolish to say, categorically, this is it.

Even with the continued successful rollout of the vaccination programme, there is still scope for the virus to spread, given the jabs are not 100% perfect and not everyone will get vaccinated.

Variants could also still cause problems – although there is plenty of evidence to suggest these will be more limited than sometimes seems to be the case. Experts remain confident that even if the mutations help the virus dodge some of the immune response from the vaccines, the jabs will still be very effective at preventing serious illness.

So while the virus is not going away (cases are certainly going to rise again) the risk it poses has been dramatically reduced.

And that means our response to it can be, too, so some of the non-Covid harms of the past year can really start to be tackled.

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In Scotland, the government timetable for lifting Covid restrictions suggests physical distancing will be in place beyond “Level 0” – the lowest level of curbs – currently expected from late June.

In Wales, where “alert level 3” restrictions are in place, even its lowest alert level 1 suggests people should still observe “social distancing rules with people you do not live with or who are not in your exclusive extended household”.

The Northern Ireland Executive has described social distancing as part of the “personal responsibility to protect ourselves and others” that could be required “for some time”.

The British Beer and Pub Association said the prime minister’s comments offered the sector “hope of a return to normality and viability”.

Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Given pubs are financially unviable under the current restrictions they face, being able to reopen without any restrictions at all from 21 June is going to be vital to their survival.”

She added: “Our recovery only begins when the restrictions are removed.”

Speaking before Mr Johnson’s comments, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said recommencing unrestricted trading on 21 June would be “critical” and would allow companies to “come off life support”.

“We urge the government to confirm reopening dates and these plans at the earliest opportunity, which will boost confidence and allow companies to step up planning and bring staff back,” she said.

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