By Morgan Perry | Political Editor
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced sweeping changes to Coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England, with hair salons, pubs, restaurants, and domestic tourism to resume business from July 4. For now, gyms, nightclubs and swimming pools will remain closed.
The news comes on the same day that Number 10 announced an end to the Coronavirus Daily Briefings, which have been a staple of Government communications since the outbreak. The Government also officially announced a reduction in its two-meter social distancing recommendation, replacing it with a new one-meter distance restriction. In Wales however the two-meter rule stays in effect.
Announcing the easing of restrictions, Boris Johnson said that “Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense”. He added that “difficult judgements” had to be made, and therefore not all businesses will be permitted to re-open.
From July 4, so long as they can operate with social distancing in mind, pubs and restaurants in England will be allowed to re-open. The Government stated that venues will be required to collect the contact details of patrons, a move they said the Government hopes to support small businesses with. The announcements are a clear deviation from guidelines in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where much of the hospitality industry remains closed.
In addition to hospitality, the Government gave the green light for hair salons to re-open, so long as social distancing can be observed. It will be a welcome move for many looking to rid themselves of “lockdown hair”, but owners of nail salons and other beauty parlours have criticised the move, questioning why they themselves were not included in the Government’s changes.
It was welcome news for those in the arts today, too. From next Saturday, cinemas, galleries and theatres will be permitted to re-open. However, for now, at least, there will be no live performances. Cinemas will likely be quiet for the foreseeable future, with many of the summer blockbusters pushed back to later in the year, or even to 2021. The question also remains as to how willing patrons will be to return to their highstreets.
In Scotland, John Swinney, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, announced that all schools will resume teaching full-time from August 1, and, the Scottish Government hopes, without the need for physical distancing. Meanwhile, in England, many won’t be back in the classroom until September, and schools in Wales will partially re-open from June 29. It is hoped that a reduction in the social distancing guidelines from two-meters to one-meter will allow more students to be welcomed back to class. In Wales, however, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford continued to re-iterate that a two-meter distance is to be maintained in shops, schools and workplaces.
Perhaps most crucially is that the Government’s new announcements are merely guidelines; their initiatives are not enshrined in law like previous revisions to the Coronavirus legislation. This has been seen by some as an attempt to avoid a repeat of the Dominic Cummings fiasco, the legitimacy of whom, for many, was open to interpretation.
The PM acknowledged that “local flareups … like those seen elsewhere” are inevitable, and that the Government would not be afraid to “apply the brakes” in the event of a further local or national outbreak of Coronavirus. Despite these promises, opposition leader, Keir Starmer continued to ask questions about the efficiency of the Government’s test-and-trace initiative, which, without a successful mobile app, has been seen by some as somewhat ineffective.
The announcement today will be welcomed by many, especially those looking for a well-deserved pint. However, unanswered questions about test-and-trace, and whether or not a one-meter social distance is sufficient to protect against the virus, has led many to question whether the UK Government is moving too fast. Regardless, it does now seem that there is light at the end of the tunnel.Politics Morgan Perry