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Review of Covid-19 Rules Set to be Delayed

Tuesday May 25, 2021.

Sky News' Greg Heffer reports that the public will may have to wait longer for details of the government's review of social distancing rules and its proposals for COVID certification due to the growth in cases of the Indian variant.

Downing Street signalled Boris Johnson would wait longer to unveil the plans, despite the prime minister having previously promised to provide details by the end of this month.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman on Monday said the review of social distancing rules would be published "as soon as possible based on the latest data, which will help inform us what measures we can take around certification".

Asked to explain a delay from the PM's initial timetable, the spokesman added: "I think it's reasonable for a new variant such as this and the need to gather as much data as possible to inform our decisions.

"It's right to take the time to get that information before making those final decisions."

The spokesman also said the results of a review of COVID-19 certification in domestic settings - dubbed "COVID passports" - would be published "as early as possible", but offered no set date.

Both the review of social distancing rules and work on the possible use of coronavirus certification are due to be completed by the fourth and final step of the prime minister's roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions, which is scheduled for 21 June.

Despite the growth in cases of the Indian variant, the government has been positive about the prospects of the final unlocking happening next month. A decision is set to be announced on 14 June as to whether England will proceed to stage four of the roadmap.

Earlier this month, the prime minister predicted the "one-metre plus" rule for social distancing could be scrapped at stage four.

"When it comes to social distancing from 21 June, I look at the data very carefully and I think at the moment it looks to me as though we may be able to dispense with the one-metre plus rule," Mr Johnson said at a Downing Street news conference. He promised to give more details "by the end of this month" - although that timetable now appears to have slipped.

Scrapping the "one-metre plus" rule could allow pubs, restaurants and other venues to operate at larger capacities and serve more customers.

Last week however, Sky also reported that the Prime Minister said he saw no current signs of having to "deviate" from plans to scrap the last lockdown curbs in England.

However, speaking on Friday, the Prime Minister said he had not seen any signs that he would have to "deviate" from plans to scrap all COVID-19 curbs in England by next month, suggesting there was no need for so-called vaccine passports to be used to gain entry to pubs.

According to the government's current plan, it hopes to be in a position "to remove all legal limits on social contact" from 21 June.

It is also intends to allow the reopening of premises that still remain shut - including nightclubs - and ease restrictions on large events and live performances.

Prior to this, the government will have carried out a review of social distancing and other long-term measures that have been put in place to cut transmission. Speaking on a visit to Portsmouth, Mr Johnson said: "We will be letting everybody know exactly what sort of arrangements to expect for 21 June.

"But what I can tell you, and just to stress that I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we're going to have to deviate from the roadmap - obviously we must remain cautious but I'm seeing nothing that makes me think we have to deviate.

"But on 21 June and vaccine certification - or COVID status certification I should say - people should bear in mind that I don't see any prospect of certificates to go into pubs or anything else."

Pressed on whether the public would continue to be asked to wear masks, Mr Johnson replied: "We will let people know as much as we possibly can by the end of the month about weddings, for instance. All the details we'll try and let people know by the end of the month about exactly where we think we'll be on 21 June, Step 4."

But cabinet minister Robert Buckland said that for many people it would make "sense" to carry on wearing masks even after lockdown rules are lifted, suggesting it would help curb the spread of the common cold.

Meanwhile, latest figures indicated "early signs" of a possible rise in the proportion of people testing positive for coronavirus in England. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed around one in 1,110 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to May 15 - up from one in 1,340 the previous week.

The coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England also rose slightly to between 0.9 to 1.1, up from between 0.8 and 1 last week. It comes after separate figures showed that cases of the Indian variant in the UK had risen by more than 2,000 in the space of a week.

However, while the ONS said here were "early signs of a potential increase", it stressed rates were low and that it was too soon to say if the rise was the start of a trend.

© Greg Heffer / Sky News 2021

All images Sky News


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