Freedom Day is unlikely to see the majority of English people stampeding out to celebrate the end to restrictions with a hedonistic spirit of excess, a new poll reveals today.
More than half (55 per cent) of those polled by YouGov for the Times today said they believed Boris Johnson was wrong to drop Covid restrictions today, amid concerns at spiralling Covid cases.
Fewer than a third (31 per cent) said they would be happy to go to a party within the next few weeks, with 53 per cent saying they would not.
A similar amount (34 per cent) said they would be happy going to the theatre now that restrictions are gone, against 48 per cent who would not.
And the hesitancy is not just prevalent among older English people – only 20 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 said they would be happy to visit a nightclub, with more than half (53 per cent) saying they would stay away.
Mr Johnson’s decision to replace lockdown laws with voluntary guidance today has put England at odds with other parts of Britain.
Wales and Scotland are easing some of their rules today but laws requiring masks and some social distancing are staying in place for at least the next few weeks.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today said England’s change was ‘not sensible’ as he warned Scots face coverings in shops and public transport will remain mandatory for ‘some time to come’.
A separate poll by YouGov today shows that pubs, gyms, cinemas and care homes top the list of places people in England are most uncomfortable about visiting.
No ‘wholesale abandoning’ of Covid rules, says Sturgeon
All of Scotland has dropped to the lowest level of its five-tier system of coronavirus measures – but there is no ‘wholesale abandoning’ of restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon said.
Face coverings in shops and public transport will remain mandatory for ‘some time to come’, while social distancing will reduce to one metre inside public places as the shift to Level 0 kicks in, the First Minister said.
Ms Sturgeon has also warned that so-called Freedom Day on Monday applies to England only, tweeting: ‘As this chart shows, cases in (Scotland) are falling, but still too high.’
She added that to talk of ”freedom day’ (England only remember) is not sensible IMO, given current situation’.
‘Vaccines going well and do offer route through – but as we vaccinate, we must ease up gradually,’ she said.
Changes in Scotland include the easing of indoor gathering restrictions in homes to allow up to eight people from up to four households to meet, while a group of up to 10 can meet inside a pub or restaurant.
Meanwhile, “informal social gatherings” of up to 15 people from 15 households will be permitted outdoors, with one metre social distancing in place between those not part of the same group of family and friends.
Elsewhere, up to 200 people can now gather at weddings and funerals and hospitality venues can stay open until midnight if they are licensed to do so, extended from the current curfew of 10pm.
Customers will no longer need to pre-book a two-hour slot, but must still provide contact details for Test and Protect.
Eir Nolsoe, data journalist at YouGov, said: ‘While on balance the public do still feel more comfortable than not visiting places like shops on the high street and restaurants, there are many consumers who don’t feel safe returning to places they normally go to once they reopen without restrictions.
‘What might concern businesses more though is that English consumers’ confidence in returning has fallen over the last few months – from previous highs in May – just when they were hoping to get back to normal.
‘We’ve seen over the last weeks a debate over where the public are expected to keep their masks on after today but previous polling has shown that the public believes masks should continue to be mandatory for some time in places like shops and on public transport.
‘And while some businesses and transport operators will continue to encourage the wearing of them, getting consumers to feel like they can return risk-free, at a time when cases are rising and there are numerous calls to halt unlocking, could be the next obstacle on the road to economic recovery.’
Freedom Day was branded ‘disaster day’ by stricken businesses today as self-isolating Boris Johnson faces fresh demands to dump farcical test and trace rules to quell the ‘pingdemic’.
The PM is marking the grand unlocking alone at Chequers after performing a comical U-turn from initially saying he and Rishi Sunak would dodge quarantine despite having met Health Secretary Sajid Javid – who has tested positive.
But the lifting of almost all legal restrictions have merely fuelled fears about spiking cases bringing the economy grinding to a halt, as more and more people are doomed to house arrest.
Experts estimate around 1.7million people are still self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace.
Many firms say their sites are having to open with reduced hours or shut completely because up to a quarter of staff are off as a precautionary measure – with scientists warning the situation could spiral as the UK faces up to 200,000 cases a day.
The Road Haulage Association has warned of impending chaos in supply chains, with chief executive Rod Mackenzie telling the FT: ‘Far from freedom day being freedom day, it’s going to be disaster day.’
In a key concession today, frontline NHS workers will be exempted from the rules to prevent hospitals having to cancel operations because of staff shortages.
But this morning vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to dash hopes that the exemption could be ditched for the double-jabbed before August 16, as well as suggesting that the sensitivity of the app will remain the same for the time being.
Iceland supermarket boss Richard Walker accused the Government of ‘squandering the advantages’ of its successful vaccination programme by forcing double-jabbed people to self-isolate, adding: ‘We’re behaving like it’s the dark days of March 2020’.
Humphrey Cobbold, the CEO of PureGym, which has more than 1.1million members in 287 sites, said: ‘We’ve been talking internally about living in the United Pingdom and it’s become a huge challenge for individuals and businesses’, adding his staff are ‘being pinged all the time’.
He added: ‘Up to 25 per cent of our staff in some areas have been asked to self-isolate. Through flexibility we’ve been able to keep sites open so far but it’s been a really close call. I think there is a different way to react to the pings for the double vaccinated and using lateral flow tests that would keep the economy functioning’.
Greene King pub boss Nick MacKenzie said: ‘It’s a problem and it could get worse. It is disruptive to the business. We had to close 33 pubs in the past week because of a lack of staff and across the industry we think it is one in 5 who have been affected by this and therefore it is causing us a real issue on a daily basis. We are having to have shorten hours in certain circumstances.’
He added: ‘We need clarity from government on how the app works and we need to move to a test and release scheme where people can take a lateral flow test every day and get back to work and some sort of normality’.
Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had announced yesterday they would take part in a pilot scheme to avoid quarantine.
But amid widespread outrage from politicians, business leaders and the public they humiliatingly caved in within hours and revealed they would join the legions of people self-isolating – in the PM’s case Chequers until July 26, his country estate in Buckinghamshire.
They had faced accusations they were accessing a ‘VIP lane’ that was not available to workers who are having to isolate, bringing some businesses and public transport to the brink of collapse.