July 19 Freedom Day: Now wait for the Covid app ping

·4-min read
Let’s get this party started: crowds outside a nightclub ahead of the midnight reopening   (Getty Images)
Let’s get this party started: crowds outside a nightclub ahead of the midnight reopening (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson felt the heat on Monday from business chiefs, scientists and MPs as lockdown laws were ditched on so-called Freedom Day.

As temperatures spiralled, ministers pleaded with people to take “personal responsibility” as they headed back to the workplace, pubs and restaurants. Many nightclubs were packed as they reopened at a minute after midnight.

Early signs were that there had not been a rush back to offices, with Tube ridership until 9am on Monday at 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, similar to many recent days, and bus ridership slightly higher than the trend at 69 per cent.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the timescale of the plan to allow the double jabbed who are “pinged” by the NHS Covid app to avoid self-isolation if they test negative, but only from August 16. He told BBC Radio’s 4’s Today programme: “There are no easy decisions but this is the clinical advice.”

The rules on self-isolating have been relaxed for frontline NHS and social care staff.

With England braced for its biggest Covid-19 wave yet as the Government takes the country into uncharted scientific territory, ministers called on firms to show “corporate responsibility”.

However, the Prime Minister was hit by a backlash from business chiefs who warned that the “pingdemic” was closing pubs, shops and other companies.

CBI President Lord Bilimoria told Talk Radio: “There are estimates, that we’ve made, that up to five million people could be self-isolating — some estimates are 10 million people — by August 16. It’s crippling the economy at the moment in every sector.”

Former PM Tony Blair called for far greater use to be made of lateral flow tests to tackle the “pingdemic”.

Mr Johnson, who is self-isolating at Chequers, was due to hold an online press conference this afternoon to explain what the Government is doing to manage the increase in the number of people having to isolate, with more than 500,000 “pinged” in just one week, and on encouraging young people to get the jab.

Mr Zahawi said the ending of legal restrictions, when schools are going on holiday and amid the UK’s vaccine programme, was a “cautious move to bringing back normality to our lives and getting our businesses back on their feet”.

With ministers having toned down their rhetoric about “Freedom Day”, he told BBC Breakfast: “I think it is right that we now move from government by diktat because we’re wanting to get our lives back, get back to normality and get people to take personal responsibility, yes, but also corporate responsibility.”

However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stepped up his criticism of the blanket ending of legal restrictions.

He said: “The Government urgently need to change course, drop plans to lift all restrictions and rebuild public faith in the isolation system they have undermined. This is why the chaotic, incompetent way Boris Johnson conducts himself is so dangerous. It makes for bad government and has deadly consequences for the British public.” As the row escalated at Westminster:

With face coverings a “condition” of travel on Transport for London, Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I urge Londoners and visitors to continue to follow these rules and travel at quieter times if possible.”

Mr Zahawi was updating Parliament on Monday on plans to vaccinate children after Cabinet ministers had discussed advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. The expectation was jabs would be offered to children more vulnerable to serious infection from Covid, children who live with adults more vulnerable to serious infection from the virus, and 17-year-olds three months away from their 18th birthday, before possibly being extended to other youngsters.

Professor Andrew Hayward, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at UCL, warned coronavirus deaths were “likely” to rise by the “low” tens of thousands and could soar to the “middle/high” tens of thousands in a worse case scenario. Modelling suggests Covid cases could reach 100,000 to 200,000 a day, with 48,161 yesterday, though hospitalisations and deaths are far lower than in previous waves.

After Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s U-turn to self-isolate, rather than not do so by taking part in a pilot testing scheme, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC Radio: “I think he (the PM) looked at the situation and he completely made the right decision... the second decision.” The PM and Chancellor had had a meeting with Health Secretary Sajid Javid who has tested positive.

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