Portsmouth council chief still worried about easing of coronavirus restrictions on UK's 'freedom day' on July 19
EASING coronavirus restrictions later this month could plunge the nation into another severe Christmas lockdown, a fearful city leader has warned.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson has voiced his fear over the government’s latest plan to relax pandemic rules, unveiled by the prime minister last night.
Due to take place on July 19 – Britain’s so-called ‘freedom day’ – the delayed easing will see mask wearing becoming voluntary, while social distancing in pubs and bars will end, meaning a return to drinking at the bar without the requirement for table service.
Mass events, like festivals and football matches, will also now be given the go-ahead – in a reassuring boom for Portsmouth’s upcoming Victorious Festival later this summer.
During a press conference last night, Boris Johnson said Britain must ‘begin to learn to live with the virus’.
But Cllr Vernon-Jackson, who heads up Portsmouth City Council, was worried the lifting of restrictions was coming at a time of soaring infection rates.
In the past month, Portsmouth’s rate of infection level has increased almost nine-fold, from 20 cases per 100,000 people at the beginning of June to 177 this week, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said.
‘My worry is that, yet again, the government will relax regulations too quickly when infection rates are on the rise,’ he added. ‘The advice from Public Health England is that we’re at the beginning of the next wave, which is likely to have as many people infected as there was in the second wave.
‘We have got to be cautious about that because the government has tried to relax things too fast and too soon before, which forced us to suffer through an extra lockdown.
‘We now have top be very cautious and gradually ease things up. Do we really want another Christmas in severe lockdown?’
However, culture minister and Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said that despite the rise in infections, hospital cases and death were still substantially reduced, showing the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout, with more than half of the UK population now fully vaccinated.
The Tory MP added: ‘It’s important that we move towards a position where individuals can manage their risk alongside a return to normal life.
‘While Covid cases have risen recently, the world-class vaccination programme thankfully appears to have significantly weakened the link with hospitalisation.
‘With the easing of restrictions, people will be able to make their own choices around things like mask wearing, to help them feel safer.’
Speaking before the PM’s announcement, Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt also threw her faith behind the vaccine programme.
But she warned the public will still need to ‘exercise’ a ‘personally responsibility going forward’ and said: ‘I hope a great summer lies ahead and I will do all I can to support families, businesses and organisations to adapt to future challenges.’
Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said: ‘The people of Portsmouth have done their bit by observing restrictions and getting vaccinated. This is now a test of leadership and ministers must clearly set out how they will protect our city as we learn to live with the virus.
‘A wholesale bonfire of safety measures is not a necessary or safe approach in view of the disturbing rise in case numbers – we have seen time and again how throwing caution to the wind can cost lives and livelihoods in the longer term.
‘Those who have had two doses of the vaccine should be able to expect less disruption to their day-to-day lives and vaccination status should play a role in the need to isolate.
‘We also need to see improved sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask-wearing in crowded spaces, ventilation and support for children to prevent serious illness.’
July 19 will also see the end of face coverings being mandatory in indoor public spaces – although there will be guidance suggesting they are still worn in some places.
Readers of The News were asked whether they will continue wearing them once they are no longer compulsory.
Samantha Dowling said: ‘Yes, mainly in shops, and public transport and possibly during winter.’
Kylie Valentine said: ‘It depends on how hot it is. It's been horrible wearing a mask in this heat recently.’
Martin Murphy added: ‘Initially yes as it gives some protection whilst indoors. Complacency may lead to regret if there is a surge.
‘It should be up to the individual and they should not be crucified for their choice.’
But other readers will be happy to see the end of compulsory face masks.
Amy Gordon said: ‘We are supposed to be going back to normal. Wearing masks is not normal.’
Julia Minty commented: ‘Certainly not, but I will keep hold of them for the cold winter months.’