Covid: Will England meet the four tests for Freedom Day on 21 June? And who will be most impacted by a delay?

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Dubbed 'freedom day', 21 June has loomed large across England since Boris Johnson announced the final step in the country's four-part roadmap out of Covid restrictions.

From 21 June, we were told back in February, life would pretty much return to normal. Nightclubs and theatres fully would open, all limits on social contact, such as rule of six, would be removed for both indoor and outdoor settings, and social distancing would be confined to the history books.

The roadmap plan was always caveated with caution. The success of the vaccine rollout, the effectiveness of vaccines, the impact of infection rates on hospital pressures, and the emergence of new variants, would all be reviewed before the country took its next towards normality.


Hear more from ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke on 'Freedom Day' on the ITV News coronavirus podcast


And now a surge in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the more transmissible Delta variant could put the brakes on 'freedom day'.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in England is now a fifth higher than it was at the end of the second wave of the virus, with more regions reporting a rise in patients.

Government ministers are reviewing the latest data on Covid-19 cases to decide whether the planned easing of social restrictions in England on June 21 will go ahead and has insisted the decision to ease restrictions in England on June 21 will be based on four tests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce a decision on Monday.

Pubs reopened outside on April 12. Credit: PA

Ahead of that announcement, and with concerns rising about a spike in Covid cases of the Delta (formerly Indian) variant, how certain is the route back to normal life and what conditions need to be met for it to happen?

Many businesses are absolutely desperate for restrictions to relax, how will they be further impacted by a pause in unlocking?

1. The vaccine rollout

This test gets a big tick for the government. The UK's vaccination drive has been a big success with over 61% of adults having received at least one dose.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Friday he is still confident of offering every adult a first dose by the end of July.

The government said they were on track to meet a target of all over 50s being offered their second jab by June 21.

So this is a huge positive, but vaccines are not 100% effective and not everyone has been vaccination. Can they hold out against the new Delta variant and can the UK get jabs in arms faster than the spread of the variant?

ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke says: "We have to remember the vaccine, although they're really effective, even if they're 95% effective that still leaves, hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable to serious Covid. If the numbers get high enough, theoretically, and the mathematical modelling blows this out we could still see a third wave as large as the one we just come through."

But, the good news: Evidence suggests that the first dose of the vaccine does give you some protection and that there is strong data to show that while you might even get ill, you're very unlikely to end up in hospital unless you are extremely frail.

2. Are vaccines reducing hospitalisations and deaths?

And more good news - there is evidence vaccines are protecting the vulnerable.

Tom Clarke told Coronavirus: What You Need To Know podcast that when the Alpha (Kent) variant was in circulation, 8% to 9% of people who got infected with it would end up in hospital.

The evidence from Bolton, where the Delta variant was first detected, shows that around 1% of people with the variant are hospitalised.

This may be because it is younger people who are being hospitalised - possibly because a large percentage of the older population have been fully vaccinated - but Tom Clarke said it would be a few more weeks before the data showed the full impact of the rising infection rates.

Hospitals are seeing younger people being admitted. Credit: PA

3. Are hospitalisations growing?

The third test is that “infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.

Protecting the NHS has been at the forefront of lockdown measures and the data must show that infection rates are not risking a surge in hospital cases that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS before England can unlock further.

While there is some evidence vaccines are effective at breaking the link between infection and serious illness, with surging case numbers, the data is currently going in the wrong direction.

The number of patients in hospital rose to above 1,000 after falling to below 900. On 6 June, 153 Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospital, up from the previous week.

But these numbers are hugely down on peak of the second wave, when more than 3,000, sometimes even more than 4,000 people were admitted to hospital daily.

Will life return to normal on 21 June? Credit: PA

4. New variants

This is the biggest stumbling block and the one that could set back the government's roadmap.

Data released by Public Health England on Friday showed that the Delta variant around 60% more transmissible than Alpha (Kent) variant.

Since last week, the number of Delta variant cases across the UK has increased by 70% to 42,323, according to PHE and the R number now stands at 1.4

ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke says the advisors he has spoken to say that, looking at the numbers, "it really all comes down to the Delta variant".

Speaking on the ITV News Coronavirus: What You Need To Know podcast, Tom Clarke said it was "possibly the fastest growth rate we've seen in in England in terms of the variant, that is a concerning amount of spread".

"You don't want to be making any major changes to your public health measures when you're dealing with something that's spreading as alarmingly as that."

But despite the surge in cases, it may not be all bad news.

The rise in cases may not be a problem in itself, if these infections are not leading to hospitalisations and deaths.

Margaret Keenan was the first person in the UK to get a Covid jab, back in December. Credit: PA

Tom Clarke explains: "There is the chance that spread causes a huge number of cases in unvaccinated people, so that's children, teenagers, young adults who haven't been vaccinated, and they're not going to be a huge problem because they don't get serious illness or die.

"But if the numbers get large enough, the virus could spread into the parts of the population, which is, is vulnerable but not vaccinated, and there are hundreds of thousands of people over 50 who have still not had both doses of the vaccine or who haven't been able to be vaccinated one reason or another."

How long would a pause be for?

At the moment how long freedom day may be postponed for is unknown.

Tom Clarke says the scientists he has spoken to say we are going to have to wait at least a couple more weeks - possibly four - before the data picture, that Boris Johnson deemed "ambiguous", becomes clearer.

"The data is genuinely uncertain, there is a theoretical possibility we could see as many people die in a subsequent third way if we get this wrong and it's better to wait," Tom Clarke says.

Who will be most impacted?

The current 30-people-limited on weddings was due to be lifted from 21 June.

The UK Weddings Taskforce estimates that 50,000 weddings have been planned for the four weeks from 21 June.

Another delay may force couples to cancel again (in many cases for the third or forth time).

Bride-to-be Jessica Woolley is due to get married in two weeks. She said the idea of cutting her guest list from 102 to 30 was "gut-wrenching".

"It makes me feel sick," she told ITV News.

"We're not excited. We're stressed. I've been ill," she tells ITV News.

"We're potentially cutting 72 people from our day."

Weddings are currently restricted to 30 people. Credit: Michael Newington Gray Photography

Wedding photographer Michael Newington Gray, who lost about 90% of his income between March 2020 and March 2021 due to the pandemic, says if restrictions remain in place, he faces "another wave of cancellations".

July was set to be a bumper month, with many people postponing their weddings from last year.

"Clients will either be forced to cancel or move their dates to later in the year, meaning another huge loss of income after a devastating past 15 months," he told ITV News.

Wedding planner at Burton Constable Hall Helen Davies says the delays have "affected consumer confidence" and couples are increasingly reluctant to book because of the constant changing

"It's been impossible to plan anything with so much uncertainty," she told ITV News.

An empty Shaftesbury Avenue in London's West End

Theatres, too, have faced an enormously tough 15 months.

This week, a frustrated Andrew Lloyd Webber declared he would risk arrest to reopen his theatres on June 21.

The composer and impresario told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

Others in the theatre world are more measured.

Louis Hartshorn, executive producer on Amelie, currently showing at the Criterion Theatre in London's West End to a reduced, social distanced audience, told ITV News that while a delay in being able to fully open would be "extremely damaging" it would be more damaging to make the wrong decision and risk stepping back.

"The main thing for us is just that the going back into restrictions, which was the thing that felt unforgivable the first time around, is what would feel really unforgivable this time.

"While there is a huge amount of suffering that will happen if, you know, and damaged the business and people's jobs that will happen if there's an extension of the restrictions, the alternative of us having to go back into some form of restrictions later would just be, it really would be unforgivable."