Almost all coronavirus restrictions in England have been lifted. Ask a friend to join you for a pint tonight, however, and there’s a good chance they will be self-isolating. Even Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are doing so – though not after an extraordinary if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry U-turn, which government spokespeople are now lying about. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi claimed this morning that the Prime Minister and Chancellor only considered being part of a pilot scheme allowing them to avoid isolation, whereas we know Number 10 explicitly confirmed that they would be joining the testing trial before changing their minds once it had caused an uproar and Robert Jenrick had finished his media round defending the original decision. Keir Starmer has written to Johnson calling for an explanation of how they were “magically selected” for the scheme as claimed.
The phrase ‘pingdemic’ has quickly become Westminster’s favourite new term. Almost everyone thinks the situation is ridiculous: as the big day arrives, many are not able to take advantage of their new freedoms because they are ill or have been contacted by test and trace. But there is a crucial divide: what you want done about it. Are you in favour of unlocking because, as Johnson says, ‘if not now, when?’, and therefore most interested in reducing the app’s sensitivity and rolling out the isolation-avoiding daily testing scheme quicker? Or do you think removing so many restrictions when cases are surging and many are not fully vaccinated is wrong, and thus keen to see measures such as compulsory mask-wearing reintroduced?
The ‘pingdemic’ phrase obscures the truth: that the pandemic is not over and we may as well just carry on using that word. This is obvious to those in the shielding population, many of whom will essentially be forced to shield once again but without the limited support on offer last time. I interviewed Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, about the situation facing the immunocompromised and immunosuppressed population. As someone on an immunosuppressant drug due to rheumatoid arthritis, Foxcroft is particularly aware of these issues and has been asking for more guidance from the government, more information on vaccine efficacy, and antibody testing to be made available. Read my write-up for more on her demands of ministers and her own experiences during Covid.
On LabourList today, we have two significant internal Labour stories covered. I spent chunks of my weekend talking to sources across the party about Labour’s plan to proscribe four groups: Socialist Appeal, Labour in Exile Network, Labour Against the Witchhunt and Resist. How is it going to work, what’s the thinking behind the move, how has the left reacted and who will the ban affect? Get the inside track here, before Labour’s ruling body votes on the proposal tomorrow. We have also revealed exclusive polling today showing that a whopping 83% of Labour members believe their party should back a switch to proportional representation. This could be a major issue at Labour conference in September. Take a closer look at the results here. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.