The date of June 21 has become stuck in peoples minds all across the country, but it shouldn’t of.
Major easements have been made to coronavirus restrictions in the UK over recent months and for the first time in a long time, we’ve been able to properly visit friends and family, travel more freely and get back to things we used to do on a regular basis before the pandemic.
Some restrictions do remain – including on international travel, nights out, numbers of people at gatherings, mask-wearing and to an extent, social distancing. June 21 is being seen as the date for the end of all social contact restrictions in England and recent weeks have been filled with speculation over whether this will actually be the case. With concerns over the Delta variant of COVID-19, it has become increasingly unlikely that social contact restrictions will cease on June 21, and even if they do, other restrictions will remain ongoing – here’s a look at some of the reasons why…
June 21 was never an official end date
The date of June 21 is getting ever closer – but when it does arrive, it will likely be somewhat of an anti-climax.
When the UK Government announced their lockdown easing plan for England, the dates that were set out were labelled as ‘no earlier than’ dates. Each date in the roadmap has been subject to change and the dates were subject to the government being satisfied of four tests being met. Therefore, the Government will not have broken a promise if it doesn’t ease all restrictions on June 21 – because it never made that promise.
The wording of the Government’s official roadmap document is also telling. All step 4 measures on the lockdown easing plan are labelled as ‘subject to review’.
June 21 was never going to be a concrete end date. Expectations may have been built up that restrictions will be removed on June 21, but we shouldn’t be surprised if, as expected, not all restrictions are removed.
Mitigations can still be expected
At some stage, restrictions preventing people from attending large events, nightclubs and other such gatherings will be lifted. However, these restrictions are very likely to be replaced with a series of mitigations (which are in effect a form of less harsh restrictions).
For example, we can expect that COVID status certifications may become a regular part of our lives if we want to attend a large event. There have been a number of successful trials to date where people have been able to attend events such as at nightclubs, provided they can show evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test result. Testing capabilities in the UK for coronavirus mean that we can all easily take a simple lateral-flow test in our own homes, receiving a result in 30 minutes.
Providing proof of your COVID status should require little effort, though some people will still view such mitigations as unwelcome restrictions. While we should be able to get back to pre-COVID activities in the not too distant future, it won’t truly be the same for potentially a long time.
The future of social distancing and mask-wearing also both remain uncertain. Either, or both, may still be encouraged or enforced beyond 21 June to try and reduce the risk of potentially easing other restrictions.
The coronavirus situation varies significantly around the world
The prevalence of COVID-19 varies in different local areas, regions and countries around the world. Likewise, the extent of vaccination rollouts also varies.
While the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme has been particularly successful to date, many countries have much lower vaccination rollouts. Experts fear that international travel poses the risk of new variants of COVID-19 being imported. There is the risk that vaccines may be less effective in responding to new variants – while vaccines are currently thought to be considerably effective against existing variants, this may not be the case for all future variants.
With COVID-19 affecting different countries to a different extent, there are also many decision-makers at work. Even if the UK Government decides that it is safe for Britons to travel to one country, that particular country may decide they don’t want to let tourists visit. This has already been the case with Australia technically being on England’s green travel list, but being inaccessible due to local rules.
The coronavirus situation also varies in different parts of the UK and devolution means different people are making decisions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to in England. This means it is possible that we may reach a point where mask-wearing is mandatory in some parts of the UK but not others – as seen earlier in the pandemic. Even if restrictions are removed at home, they may still exist when we want to travel.
Attitudes have changed and impacts will remain
Even when restrictions are removed, things won’t be the same as before the pandemic.
Attitudes have changed around so many things during the pandemic. Even when restrictions are removed that allow thousands to gather back in an office, the chances are that not everyone will return to the office. While many people will jump at the chance of going on a traditional night out again, others have grown to like the possibly more social setup of sitting at tables, rather than cramming into the dancefloor. Will we head out to the shops again instead of shopping online – maybe not.
The impacts of the pandemic will also remain for a very long time. There can’t be an exact moment where restrictions end and everyone forgets about the events of the pandemic. NHS wait lists are continuing to grow, lockdowns have had a devastating impact on people’s mental health and children have lost out on valuable time in the classroom.
Even if it’s not by definition ‘restrictions’ that we’ll be facing, the ways we live of lives will change and June 21 won’t provide the return to normality that many had believed, or at least hoped.