Many of us assumed that the coronavirus ‘lockdown’ here, always a relatively light touch one, would be lifted significantly later in the year. But the Prime Minister is set to announce sweeping changes this afternoon that would allow pubs, cafés, restaurants, even cinemas and museums, to reopen on July 4th in England. At 12.30pm in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson will delight his parliamentary party by unveiling the details of ‘Independence Day’. With their top priority of ‘getting the economy moving’, Tory MPs will be delighted.
The upcoming complications are evident, however. Business owners say they will struggle to implement mitigating measures at short notice. A new one-metre-plus rule could cause problems: Usdaw points out that swapping the signs from two-metre instructions to one-metre-plus would be expensive, and that fights could be triggered “if you get a situation where half the population thinks social distancing is over, and the other half are very scared about getting too close”. Unite has raised concerns over outbreaks in the meat processing industry, and how these could be exacerbated.
What does Labour make of these adjustments, including the revised distancing rule? “We support the principle of this change around social distancing, however we do want to see the publication of the government review and its findings,” Bridget Phillipson said this morning. Labour is stressing the need for public confidence and for NHS Test and Trace to be working effectively. But most of all, the opposition is calling for a ‘back to work budget’ that would ensure businesses unable to reopen do not go bust during the pandemic.
Much will depend on communication – from the messaging to the public and the specifics of government instructions for businesses to whether the top scientific advisors are convincing at the press conference later today. We know that the government has frequently failed on these measures over the past few months. We still aren’t being told how many people are tested each day. No wonder 74% of British people are worried about a second wave. Are we right to be anxious? Is public health being put at risk to improve GDP figures? And crucially, should Labour be pushing back rather than simply calling for more transparency? Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.