Boris Johnson gave in to the lockdown sceptics on the Tory backbenches by announcing a “big bang” lifting of the remaining coronavirus restrictions on 19 July. Officially, the final decision will be announced on Monday – and some scientists still hope for a last-minute rethink because the number of new infections could rise to 100,000 a day by next month. But the die is cast, and they will be disappointed.
Even if his calculated gamble on Covid pays off, Johnson will face a stream of demands from voters and MPs to tackle post-pandemic problems such as the catch-up in education, and NHS waiting lists. “Schools and hospitals first” was New Labour’s mantra; the party should revive it, to play on voters’ latent doubts about the Tories’ commitment to public services.
Perhaps it was always going to take a political decision to override the scientists’ doubts. Johnson allies argue that there will never be a good time to end restrictions, as there would always be health risks. They say 19 July was the least worst time; any delay would merely push the peak of the third wave to the autumn, with hospitals under even more pressure than they will be now.
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