England’s proposed ‘unlockdown’ from June 21 might be on the rocks following “exponential growth” in cases of the B1617.2 variant – or Delta variant, which first originated in India – over the past few weeks.
Data suggests the Delta variant is about 40% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which originated in Kent.
June 21 is set to mark step four in England’s roadmap out of lockdown, which started in January 2021. But what does step four actually entail?
What social contact limitations will there be?
It’s hoped that by June 21, all legal limits on social contact could be removed, according to UK government guidelines.
This would mean you could meet up with as many people as you wanted to, indoors or outside, rather than abiding by the rule of six.
What about social distancing?
Step four could also mean a lifting of measures like social distancing, wearing face coverings indoors in public places and on public transport, and no longer being urged to work from home.
These are all measures that have been put in place to reduce transmission. However, with a new and seemingly more transmissible variant doing the rounds, it’s not guaranteed that these will be lifted so soon.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said in early June he hadn’t ruled out keeping guidance on face masks and working from home in place past June 21.
On 6 June, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show the government is “absolutely open” to delaying the June 21 lifting of restrictions if necessary.
Further decisions will be made in the coming weeks, with an answer hopefully by June 14.
Will big events be back on the cards?
Any businesses that have remained closed since last year – such as nightclubs – are also due to reopen on June 21.
Restrictions on large events and performances would also be eased, meaning concerts, gigs, weddings and more could go ahead with bigger crowds.
Initial results from the Events Research Programme show it’s possible to reopen such venues without huge outbreaks. A series of pilot events involving 58,000 people resulted in just 15 positive cases. These events were carried out after a long period of lockdown, when cases were generally very low.
That said, it’s clear some interventions had an impact and could be useful in reopening society. The events tested a range of them – such as altering the layout of the venue, face coverings and ventilation – and all attendees took Covid tests before and after the event.
How likely is it step four will go ahead on June 21?
Some scientists have called for urgent action to reduce the spread of the newest Delta variant and prevent a third wave. Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, said we’re already seeing rises in cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
“It’s clear that even if we move forward as we are, and don’t open up further on June 21, we’re still likely to face a wave exceeding Jan – so postponing June 21 isn’t sufficient. And distracts from the urgent need to act now,” she said.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and government adviser, told Sky News there’s a “significant chance” the June 21 target will change.