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Johnson delays definitive end of 1m rule

Published:  18 May, 2021

Boris Johnson has scrapped plans to announce a final deadline for the end of social distancing this month as the number of cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant leaps by 1,000 in just four days.

Last week, the Prime Minister pledged to outline exactly what social distancing measures would be required after June 21 by the end of this month, with many believing that all social distancing rules would be lifted in line with earlier projections.

A Downing Street spokesman however has pulled the deadline for setting out plans by the end of May, saying: “We can’t be definitive at this point, because of the variant that has been identified.”

Yesterday Johnson’s official spokesman said that the timetable had slipped because of the “serious disruption” caused by the variant: “We want to do it as soon as possible but…we need time to assess the latest data on this variant first identified in India. We want to do everything possible to give people enough time to prepare.”

The rowback will come as a blow to the hospitality industry which was gearing up to a potential return to unrestricted service by the end of June.

We know that the 1m distancing rule drastically impacts the number of covers in venues. Even outdoors, since outdoor spaces were able to open from 12 April, many businesses report actually trading at a loss due to the restrictions.

The already extended Rent Moratorium is also still coming to end at the end of June, putting even more pressure on a sector which has haemorrhaged £80.8bn worth of sales since the pandemic began.

According to the Times, Public Health England is now focused on tests which will show the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant, which it expects to conclude by the end of this month.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said it is still right to allow indoor mixing because fewer than 1,000 Covid patients were in hospital across the UK and deaths were at an average of nine a day.

He emphasised, though, that “we must be humble in the face of this virus” and look “not just at where we are today” but where evidence points further down the track.

Thus, it is “too early” to make decisions about June 21.