Big majority of Britons ‘worried’ about Boris Johnson’s plan to lift all Covid restrictions, poll reveals

Exclusive: Most fear ending social distancing, mask-wearing and curbs on attendance at events in just two weeks’ time

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 05 June 2021 19:13 BST
UK Covid-19 vaccinations: Latest figures

A large majority of Britons are “worried” about Boris Johnson’s plan to remove all remaining coronavirus rules this month.

The mounting anxiety – about ending social distancing, mask-wearing and limits on numbers at events – is revealed in an exclusive poll for The Independent as pressure for a delay grows.

Some 65 per cent of people said they are worried about scrapping the “one metre plus” rule, which requires venues to use screens, or seat people facing away from each other, and prevents ordering at bars with table service required instead.

There is similar concern about removing the need to wear masks in many settings (63 per cent) and about allowing unlimited numbers into concerts, theatres and sports stadiums (60 per cent).

Reopening night clubs alarms 58 per cent of people who responded to pollsters Savanta ComRes, with 49 per cent nervous about scrapping limits on the size of weddings and funerals.

Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the results showed that “the public seem to be ahead of the government” about the dangers of ploughing ahead on 21 June.

He warned one of the government’s own tests for completing the roadmap – that no new variant of coronavirus is increasing the risks – is not being met, with the arrival of the Indian, or Delta, variant in April.

“We have two epidemics in the UK. The first, with the Alpha variant, is being controlled by the existing measures, which is good,” Prof McKee told The Independent.

“The second, with the much more transmissible Delta variant, which poses a particular risk to the large number of people who are not yet fully vaccinated, is spreading rapidly.

“There is a fairly consistent view among researchers from different disciplines that these conditions call for great caution. Once again the public seem to be ahead of the government.”

The survey comes as Mr Johnson is believed to be fighting an internal battle to stick to the 21 June date, amid huge pressure from his MPs and Tory-backing newspapers not to pull back.

Last month, he made clear his intention to “dispense with the one metre plus rule” – although the deteriorating picture then forced him to shelve an announcement planned for the end of May.

On Thursday, Mr Johnson insisted he could “see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead”, with the 21 June full reopening – despite sharply rising infections.

But he also admitted the data was “ambiguous”, in particular the risk to “the elderly and vulnerable” despite the success of the vaccination programme.

A decision on whether to press ahead with step 4 is due to be taken on 14 June, although Matt Hancock, the health secretary, suggested it could come slightly earlier.

He did not rule out a partial lifting of remaining restrictions – perhaps retaining mask-wearing and work-from-home guidance, while ending social distancing.

One idea being examined by the government is a two-week pause to allow maximum immunity for more double-vaccinated adults to kick in.

But although second doses for over-50s have been accelerated, with the hope of reaching all of them by 21 June, that would still leave younger people without protection until much later in the summer.

The poll, of 2,180 people, conducted between 28 and 30 May, revealed the government does not have majority backing for lifting all restrictions, with only 45 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against.

Crucially, when confronted with specific curbs to be removed, a much smaller minority is “not worried” about ending social distancing (33 per cent), mask-wearing (35 per cent) and attendance limits at events (37 per cent).

The greatest public concern centres on lifting all foreign travel restrictions – with 69 per cent of people fearful.

However, this is not in the government’s sights currently, as hopes of more quarantine-free destinations for summer holidays are dashed instead.

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