New lockdown is the latest in a string of Government U-turns during pandemic

By PA Reporters
·5-min read

The new lockdown in England is the latest in a string of U-turns performed by Boris Johnson’s Government since the pandemic began.

The Prime Minister and his team had been insisting right up until Friday that their system of three tiers was the best approach to tackling the second wave while avoiding the economic damage of a full circuit-break.

Here, the PA news agency looks at back at some of the other major U-turns performed by ministers during the pandemic.

– Extending business support

Just last month Chancellor Rishi Sunak completely revamped his Job Support Scheme, which replaces the furlough system.

Mr Sunak had earlier resisted calls to give greater support to businesses as the second wave and tier restrictions hit the economy.

But he came up with more money after firms – especially those in hospitality – warned of big drops in revenue as a result of socialising restrictions and the risk of forced closure.

– Decision to lift Covid restrictions in Bolton and Trafford reversed

Coronavirus restrictions banning people from different households from meeting indoors or private gardens were due to be lifted in the two Greater Manchester boroughs at the start of September.

But the decision was reversed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said there had been a “significant change” in infection rates in both areas.

The statement was released by the Department of Health and Social Care shortly after midday on September 2, the point at which it said the restrictions had been due to be lifted.

The U-turn came after council leaders in both boroughs had called for the ban on two households mixing to be maintained.

– U-turn on face coverings being worn in schools

The Department for Education reversed its policy in August, announcing that face coverings should be worn in corridors and communal areas by staff and students in Year 7 and above in schools in areas with coronavirus restrictions.

The new advice came after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had previously insisted measures being adopted by schools to limit the spread of coronavirus meant masks were not required and a day after a Number 10 spokesman said there were no plans to review the guidance.

Schools go back in England
Pupils wear protective face masks as schools in England reopen (Danny Lawson/PA)

– A-level and GCSE results U-turn in England

Following criticism from students and headteachers, and a backlash by Tory MPs, the Government announced A-level and GCSE grades would be based on teachers’ assessments rather than a controversial algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual.

The Prime Minister and Mr Williamson had previously defended the “robust” system, which saw almost 40% of A-level grades reduced from teachers’ predictions.

A-Level Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had said there would be no U-turn on exam grades (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had said there would be no U-turn on exam grades (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The announcement on August 17, just days before GCSE results were due to come out, followed an earlier vow from Mr Williamson that there would be “no U-turn, no change”.

– Government’s coronavirus contact-tracing app plans ditched

A new NHSX app for contact tracing was announced by Matt Hancock on April 12 when he said it would be “crucial” for preventing the transmission of coronavirus.

The app was trialled on the Isle of Wight with a view to it being rolled out more widely across the country in May.

Coronavirus – Thu Jun 18, 2020
A new NHSX app for contact tracing was announced by Mr Hancock in April but later ditched (Steve Parsons/PA)

However, on June 18 the Government abandoned plans for its own app, instead switching to one using technology developed by Apple and Google.

Trials of this one were launched in August on the Isle of Wight, in the London Borough of Newham and among NHS volunteer personnel and the app was finally rolled out nationwide in September.

– Primary school children to return

In early May, Mr Williamson set out the Government’s ambition that all primary-age children in England would have at least four weeks in school before the summer.

But on June 9, he said there was “no choice” but to scrap those plans amid concerns that the two-metre social-distancing rule would make a full return impossible.

In August, the Government said that its plans would be for all pupils, in all year groups, to return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term.

– Bereavement scheme for NHS staff extended

After criticism that care workers, cleaners and porters were being excluded from a Home Office scheme granting families of foreign health workers indefinite leave to remain in the UK if their loved ones died of Covid-19, the Government announced an extension of the scheme on May 20.

The scheme had been introduced in April but did not initially include all support staff in the NHS.

Edinburgh TV Festival
Edinburgh TV Festival

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the extension would be “effective immediately and retrospectively”.

– NHS surcharge for overseas health and care staff

A day later, on May 21, the Prime Minister stood by the fee that overseas health workers were being charged to use the NHS.

However, just hours later, following mounting pressure from senior Tories, it was announced that foreign health and care workers would be exempted from the scheme.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the U-turn a “victory for common decency”.

– School meals voucher scheme

England footballer Marcus Rashford was credited with playing a key part in forcing the Government to U-turn on its decision not to extend the children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.

On June 16, Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said that free school meals are not normally extended to cover the summer period.

Marcus Rashford File Photo
Marcus Rashford was praised for his role in forcing the Government to U-turn on its decision (Mike Egerton/PA)

Yet a few hours later, No 10 backtracked on its stance, confirming that it would in fact extend the programme.

Speaking the next day, Mr Hancock mistakenly praised “Daniel Rashford” for his campaigning efforts.