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Will the 21 June reopening be delayed? The PM must decide

Will freedom day be delayed? That’s the question that the prime minister will have to answer very shortly – and the question on every eventprof’s lips as the great June reopening hangs in the balance.

For months 21 June, Midsummer’s Day, has been the date from which all restrictions will be lifted in England, the date that we reach the end of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

That date has always had caveats around it, with the government insisting it would be led by data, not dates – and if the data took a turn for the worse then the date would be delayed.

However, such is the need among eventprofs to get back to business as soon as possible, many took the plunge and booked their events as close to 21 June as possible.

Of course, there are just as many cautious planners holding off until the autumn, winter and even next year. But equally, it is perfectly right for those that rely on events for their income to want to revitalise those income streams at the earliest opportunity.

So if we’re going to be led by data, what is the data saying? First, the good news: on Tuesday, the UK recorded zero deaths from Covid-19.

Official figures showed no new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test for the first time since July last year. It’s a huge milestone, one that shows the power of the vaccines and the efficiency of the rollout.

However, the good news is tempered with the slightly less good news – cases continue to rise, largely fuelled by the spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India.

Scientists and senior government figures have been spooked by the figures, lining up to urge caution around the 21 June date.

On Tuesday the government’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport told the BBC that while the Alpha variant, first identified in Kent, was disappearing, the Delta variant was taking over and it was “not impossible” that the UK may be in the foothills of a third wave. The previous day Professor Ravi Gupta of Nervtag had warned of the “exponential growth” in new cases. The message has been clear: the 21 June reopening may have to be pushed back.

For many event professionals, the thought of lockdown continuing further over the summer is intolerable. Especially for those with events booked this month. Not to mention the toll on eventprofs’ mental health as their lives and careers continue to be put on hold.

Mayor from Jaws

But at the same time, it would also be intolerable for many in the sector if the country reopened – and then was forced into another lockdown by a third wave. How could we close down again?

These are the questions that the government will be grappling with as decision time approaches. So what will Johnson decide? If (and it’s a pretty big if) we choose to believe the testimony last week of Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings, the prime minister has previously been extremely resistant to enforcing lockdowns.

“After the first lockdown, he was cross with me and others with what he regarded as basically pushing him into the first lockdown”, Cummings told MPs. “His argument after that was: ‘I should have been the mayor from Jaws and kept the beaches open.’”

Of course, the prime minister did end up ordering a second lockdown in November – several weeks later than advised. The third lockdown in January was also implemented later than advised, with one report claiming that the delay resulted in 25,000 more deaths.

The big difference between then and now, however, is the vaccine. While cases may be going up, so far hospitalisations and deaths have continued to fall, culminating in that zero deaths announcement. And there has been a conspicuous drive to get the jab into as many arms as possible in recent weeks, in a furious race between the vaccine and the virus.

On Tuesday, Downing Street said that Boris Johnson stood by his view that nothing in the current data suggested the 21 June date for ending lockdown restrictions would need to be delayed. Eventprofs await his final decision with bated breath.

What would it mean to you if the 21 June reopening was delayed? What would you do if you were in the prime minister’s position? Comments are open below, or by emailing pharvey@ntmllc.com

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