How will 19 July be remembered? ‘Freedom Day’ fears as England opens up

With a third wave of Covid surging and millions of younger people still not fully vaccinated, it remains to be seen how history will look back on England’s ‘Freedom Day’

An illustration picture shows a smartphone screen displaying a Covid-19 vaccine record on the National Health Service (NHS) app (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Throughout the course of the pandemic, Boris Johnson’s Government has been accused of following dates rather than data.

There was the vow that it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas due to the virus, before the grinding U-turn.

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Then there was the new roadmap out of lockdown, with more dates set in stone.

Clubbers queue around the block at a few minutes to midnight waiting for Covid-19 restrictions to be dropped and for Brighton's Pryzm nightclub to open its doors once more (Photo by Chris Eades/Getty Images)

Or not, as it proved to be with 21 June.

And so here we are on 19 July, the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ for England, with all remaining restrictions axed.

(Scotland is only easing some restrictions today, and rules won't be relaxed in Wales until 7 August and in Northern Ireland on 26 July.)

With 50,000 new cases of Covid per day, tens of millions still unvaccinated and the prime minister himself locked in isolation like over a million others in the UK (after yesterday trying to wriggle out of it), it's fair to say that there's not exactly a celebratory mood across the country yet.

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A new poll by YouGov found that 55% of people think lifting the remaining restrictions today is the wrong thing to do (compared to just 31% who think it's the right thing to do).

While the nightlife and arts sectors will welcome a much-needed boost to their takings, and many grabbing the chance to socialise freely again, there's still a sense of trepidation over where we could be headed, with Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling led to the first lockdown – warning that daily cases could reach 200,000 before the current wave peaks.

Downing Street's line of communication over the past few weeks is that England’s legal lockdown is being replaced by common sense and personal responsibility, where we all have to choose to do the right thing.

That may go down well among Tory backbenchers, but it's a huge gamble to take with public health, and could have a huge impact on the reopening economy as thousands more phones are pinged every day.

There may be new freedoms from today, but not everyone will be rushing out to take advantage of them just yet.

How will the date of 19 July be remembered? That's anyone's guess right now.

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