In The News: Boris Johnson’s Covid gamble

England marks its ‘freedom day’ despite ongoing surge in case numbers

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope


On Monday, England marked its so-called “freedom day” and ended more than a year of lockdown restrictions, despite an ongoing surge in case numbers across the UK and warnings from medical experts not to proceed.

From this week, people in England are no longer legally required to social distance or wear a face mask and venues such as theatres and concert halls can be filled to capacity.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalised in ICU with Covid-19 last year, said maintaining restrictions and closures would simply “delay the inevitable” and put the question to the British public “if not now, when?”

Mr Johnson originally scheduled to lift lockdown restrictions in England on June 21st but put plans on hold after scientific advisers warned of a significant resurgence of hospitalisations if the reopening went ahead. Last week, more than 1,200 leading scientists and doctors backed a letter to the Lancet medical journal, in which they described the freedom day plans as “dangerous and premature”.

The World Health Organisation’s Mike Ryan said the idea of letting people get infected with Covid-19 earlier rather than later was “epidemiological stupidity”.

This time, however, it appears the British prime minister is not listening.

Meanwhile, the rest of UK – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – are keeping some restrictions in place.

So why is Johnson taking this gamble and how do we expect it to play out in the days and weeks that lie ahead?

Denis Staunton, London Editor with The Irish Times, told presenter Sorcha Pollak that given the soaring infections, and the 1.7 million people currently self-isolating including Mr Johnson himself, freedom day would not be the moment of national celebration the UK government had envisaged.

The prime minister actually started pleading for caution in the days leading up to Monday, said Staunton. However, the Government still believes the lifting of all restrictions will work, he added.

“Their calculation is at some stage, when you’re going to come out of lockdown, and when you get to almost complete vaccination, you’re going to have, what they call, an exit wave of infections. They think it’s better to have that now while you’re in the summer holidays, while kids are off school.

“They’re saying that even if you wait it’s going to happen in September or October and the pressure on the health service is greater and the schools are back. The idea would be you have a surge of infections now.”

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope