Dominic Raab: We’re on the last lap of Covid battle but social distancing may stay

Dominic Raab grilled by Ridge over lockdown restrictions review

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He insisted that a “careful” approach to easing virus restrictions was still needed, even with our successful vaccine rollout and a plunge in infections. Mr Raab added: “We want to get to a position at the end of June where we can get life back to as normal as possible but there need to be some safeguards in place.” His verdict comes as scientists predict the UK will not be hit by a third coronavirus wave this year.

Infections are continuing to fall, with 1,671 further cases and 14 deaths reported yesterday. The inoculation programme has also smashed every target, with almost 50 million jabs given out.

Boris Johnson said yesterday that 15 million people had received two doses of a vaccine, adding: “Thank you to everyone who has made this possible.”

With Britain in such a strong position, Mr Raab said some “safeguards” will need to remain in place after lockdown lifts on June 21 – the last phase of the roadmap.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “We want to get to a position at the end of June where we can get life back to as normal as soon as possible but there need to be some safeguards in place.”

When asked what additional measures might be required still, he replied: “It will be around distancing, maybe there will be something around masks but I don’t want to prejudge it.”

The Foreign Secretary’s warning came as calls to end the shutdown early grew. He said: “I know people are hankering to go a bit faster but actually we feel vindicated that taking steady steps out of the lockdown is the smart way to go.

“We’re very close now to really turning the corner and I think we still need to be careful… as I said, we don’t want to see the gains lost and the sacrifices that have been made undone.

“By the time we get to June 21 almost all social restrictions will be lifted so there’s only a little bit more time to go, but it’s right to make sure we do that in a careful way.” Mr Raab’s remarks sparked an immediate backlash from Tory MPs and the hospitality industry.

Pub bosses described his comments as a “red flag” and warned firms need certainty now on how they will be allowed to reopen heading into the summer.

Kate Nicholls from the industry body UK Hospitality warned: “June 21 is a critical moment for us. This is the point where hospitality businesses were looking to start breaking even again and turning the corner to hopefully begin making profit. So this is crucial for us – because the industry has been through 14 months of making losses and 10 months with no money coming in.”

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The Prime Minister said only five days ago that there is ‘a very good chance’ all restrictions will end on June 21.

“Most people will have taken the Prime Minister at his word and will find it difficult to understand a flipflop at this late stage.”

The next step in Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown is due to go ahead on May 17 when people can sit indoors in the pub, a restaurant or someone’s home and overnight stays are permitted.

Borders will also be reopened for international travel, with several approved “green list” countries – including Malta, Portugal and some Caribbean islands – revealed as soon as tomorrow.

Some MPs have claimed that restrictions on foreign holidays should be maintained to protect the UK from Covid-19 variants.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus urged the Government to “discourage all international leisure travel”.

It claimed that the importation of fresh variants might “lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life”.

But Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed the “best financial support the Government can now offer the travel sector is to open up overseas travel as planned from the 17th of May”.

Mr Johnson has indicated all restrictions should be able to be lifted by June 21 if coronavirus infections remain low.

In a further step towards normality, the Government has announced that the maximum of 30 mourners who can attend funerals is to be lifted in England.

Instead the capacity will be determined by how many people the venues, such as places of worship or funeral homes, can safely accommodate while maintaining social distancing, officials added.

This includes both indoor and outdoor venues. All must continue to be Covid-secure and to follow social distancing rules, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said.

While venue capacities will vary, many will allow “significantly” more than 30 people to attend.

Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, said: “The British people have made huge sacrifices throughout the pandemic to protect the NHS and save lives, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the deeply painful restrictions on the numbers attending funerals.

“Losing a loved one has been incredibly hard during the pandemic.

“I am pleased we are now in a position, thanks to everyone’s continued efforts and the rollout of the vaccine, to remove these limits and allow more friends and family to come together and pay their respects.”

Mr Jenrick added: “I look forward toa flip-flop working with faith leaders responsible for places of worship, and those who manage venues such as funeral homes, to introduce the new arrangements in a way that continues to keep people safe.”

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