June 21 is burned into the public consciousness as the day when life will finally return to normal and Britain will reach its destination on Boris Johnson’s “one-way road to freedom”.
But there are growing signs that Covid-19 restrictions will remain in place long after the summer solstice.
The Government’s scientific advisers want “baseline measures”, including social distancing, to continue for another year, councils are hiring Covid marshals to start work in July, and vaccine passports are already being trialled.
Meanwhile, legal powers to impose domestic Covid-19 restrictions have been extended by Parliament until September, while international travel restrictions are expected to stay in place for many months.
It comes as the Minister for Vaccines, Nadhim Zahawi, said the roadmap to lifting the lockdown restrictions in the UK cannot be safely accelerated despite the success of the vaccine rollout. Mr Zahawi said that while one in four adults had two doses, “we have to be careful”.
On whether restrictions could be lifted as per the road map, Mr Zahawi said: “The data is looking good and positive but nevertheless we really have to be careful because what we don’t want is mutations, for example, to blindside us and then have another spike.”
The comments come despite Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s Chief medical officer, saying on April 28 that it was “incredibly safe” for two people to meet freely after receiving both doses of the vaccine.
The Prime Minister insists “the end really is in sight”, but it increasingly seems that may only apply to those who own a telescope.
While the Government is confident that restrictions on meeting friends and family (such as the so-called Rule of Six) will cease on June 21, it appears increasingly likely that some form of social distancing will stay in place.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman has echoed cautious comments from Nadhim Zahawi on April 29 around the easement of social distancing restrictions.
It comes after Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a coronavirus briefing on April 28 that it would be very safe for two fully vaccinated adults to meet at least two weeks after their second dose, although he urged the public to stick to the current guidance for the time being.
“The point [Jonathan Van-Tam] was making is that we are close but it is right that we continue to be cautious and follow the steps set out in the road map,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
Ministers are conducting a review of the ‘one metre-plus rule‘, which allows restaurant customers, office workers and others to sit one metre apart if mitigations such as screens and extra ventilation are in place.
Pubs have warned that if the one metre-plus rule stays in place, it will be a disaster for them, because they need to be full to make a profit. But hospitality bosses are pessimistic about the possibility of seeing punters crammed shoulder to shoulder at the bar any time soon.
Theatres, cinemas, nightclubs and other venues that rely on full houses to turn a profit are also anxiously awaiting the results of the government review.