- SKY NEWS - JUNE 15, 2021 - Alan McGuinness - Contribuição Ernesto Matera -
Michael Gove says the 21 June postponement is "regrettable", but the government wants to be sure that "we don't go back".
19 July is the "terminus date" for England's remaining coronavirus restrictions and it would take an "unprecedented and remarkable" change in circumstances to derail that, Michael Gove has told Sky News.
The Cabinet Office minister was speaking after Boris Johnson announced a delay to step four in England's roadmap out of COVID-19 measures, pushing back the hoped for 21 June "Freedom Day" amid a rise in cases of the Delta variant first identified in India.
Mr Gove said the postponement was "regrettable", but said "what we want to do is make sure that when we do make that move that we don't go back".
"Because the worst thing for business, the worst thing for any of us, would be to open up again and then to very quickly find that we had to reimpose restrictions."
Asked if restrictions will finally end on 19 July, he said that would be the "terminus date" for COVID measures.
"It would require an unprecedented and remarkable alteration in the progress of the disease" for that to change, Mr Gove added.
The PM told a Downing Street news conference on Monday that postponing step four would allow for more people to receive their second jab before further easing of restrictions takes place, with evidence showing that the current vaccines provide a high level of protection against the Indian variant.
The proposed extension will be reviewed to see if action can be taken two weeks sooner on Monday 5 July.
However, Mr Johnson did announce some changes, scrapping the 30-person limit on weddings from 21 June as planned and removing the requirement for care home residents to quarantine for 14 days after day trips.
Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that has been advising the government throughout the pandemic, told Sky News the delay was a "reasonable compromise".
"It's the vaccines that are going to enable us to live with the virus," he said
"Another month will allow many more people to be jabbed and the effect of the first and second jabs to kick in."
The decision to delay has attracted criticism from several Tory MPs, with Steve Baker, a member of the COVID Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative backbench MPs saying the public must "see true freedom again".
Criticism has also been levelled at the government for putting India on the red list at the end of April, two weeks after neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Labour's Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News the Delta variant was given the "red carpet" to come into the country.
"The prime minister was planning a visit to India. That was why India didn't go on the red list. And we're paying the price for that now," the shadow health secretary said.
His frontbench colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds said in a speech that the PM's "negligence and incompetence" was to blame for the 21 June postponement.
"There is one reason and one reason only that this happened: lax border measures by Conservative ministers. They have allowed the Delta variant, first identified in India to take hold here," the shadow home secretary said.
Let's call it what it is. Let's put the blame where it should lie. In this country - it's the Johnson Variant."
But Mr Gove said ministers acted before the Delta strain became a variant of concern and stressed "you can only act on the basis of the information you have at the time".
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