Freedom Day branded 'irresponsible' by Portsmouth council chief amid a surge in Covid-19 infections
MINISTERS have been branded ‘irresponsible’ for easing coronavirus restrictions today as part of the UK’s so-called Freedom Day, amid fears it will cause the pandemic to ‘accelerate out of control’.
The relaxation of rules designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 will see social distancing coming to an end and rules on mask wearing to be made voluntary in all settings.
But the decision comes as infection rates for the virus have soared over the past month, with more than 52,000 people nationally having contracted it in the latest daily figures for the first time since the peak of the pandemic’s second wave in January.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who heads up Portsmouth City Council, has lambasted the government over the unlocking of the rules.
‘This is a freedom of irresponsibility,’ he said. ‘It’s saying to people: “if you want to be irresponsible and take your mask off and do the things that won’t protect you or other people then go ahead”.
‘The government is being irresponsible by removing all these protections and we will all be paying the price for it soon.’
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth echoed the concerns and accused the government of ‘putting their foot down on the accelerator and throwing off the seatbelts’.
‘The problem with people getting pinged and having to isolate is that that is a symptom of increased transmission in society,’ he told Sky News.
‘We know the virus is climbing again very steeply but what you’ve got to do is put measures in place to break transmission chains.
‘Instead of that, we’re to have Freedom Day, where the government – Sajid Javid and others – are effectively putting their foot down on the accelerator and throwing off the seatbelts.’
The easing of rules comes amid a huge spike in the number of people being told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service, which has seen hundreds across the area being ‘pinged’.
The NHS app sent a record 520,194 alerts last week, instructing users to quarantine for up to 10 days because they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.
The surge, dubbed the ‘pingdemic’, caused chaos nationally over the weekend as a tube line in London was forced to close.
Control roof staff were unable to turn up for work after being told to self-isolate by the NHS app in the morning.
It meant no services ran on the Metropolitan line on Saturday, with services eventually resumed yesterday.
Fears have since been raised about the impact it could have on trade, with senior leaders at major retailers warning stores could faced reduced hours due to staff being forced to isolate.
It comes after one of the UK’s biggest port company bosses said the app could lead to food shortages.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, called the ‘pingdemic’ the most ‘significant threat to ports’ resilience we have seen yet’.
He said: ‘If the current trajectory of absences continues without the government taking any action, there has to be a risk of disruption to important supply chains, including food.’
Cabinet minster Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, said the health secretary was looking at ‘changing the test and trace app advice so that it helps stop the spread, but is less disruptive to people’s lives.’.
She added: ‘I think most people will welcome the removal on restrictions which will allow events, weddings and hospitality to open up.
‘However, any unlocking will mean cases will rise. To keep the economy unlocked we need to still minimise the risk of infection and keep case numbers down.
‘We should all still follow the heath advice, wear a mask when appropriate, keep washing our hands and make use of testing.
‘Above all we should remember those for whom the vaccines are less effective. There is still a sizeable chunk of the population who will be vulnerable
‘The vast majority have been so responsible and I’m sure will continue to look after the most vulnerable in our communities.’