No UK lockdown lifting yet, Johnson to detail strategy on Sunday


UK Premier Boris Johnson

AGENCIES | Aljazeera | London – The British public will have to wait until Sunday for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategy to gradually lift the lockdown, after hopes that clarity would be provided at Thursday’s daily press briefing were dashed.

Many of Thursday morning’s UK tabloid newspapers all ran with a similar theme, with front-page headlines inferring that total relaxation of the lockdown restrictions – in place to slow to spread of coronavirus – was imminent.

Johnson’s administration has been reviewing lockdown procedures every three weeks in conjunction with a briefing from its scientific advisory group – and the latest update for the public was expected on Thursday.

But when Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab took to the podium at the day’s press briefing, he announced there would be no change to the existing rules – but did confirm that the prime minister would be outlining his strategy on Sunday in a televised statement.

A further 539 people died after contracting the coronavirus in the 24 hours to 5pm (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday, Raab announced, bringing the country’s official death toll to 30,615. Only in the United States have more people died from the disease.

“The headlines were clearly the result of some press briefing designed to present a more positive narrative ahead of the bank holiday weekend – but it has backfired,” media and politics expert Ros Taylor, presenter of The Bunker podcast, told Al Jazeera.

“The government is desperate for good news, with other nations lifting lockdown, and to avoid the headlines of having the highest number of deaths in Europe. Newspapers are also desperate for good news – circulations are way down, and if you’re presented with two papers, one saying ‘Highest death toll in Europe’ and another saying ‘Liberated from lockdown’, which are you more likely to buy? All round, the desire for good news is extremely high.

“It was badly timed, however, and risked playing back into this narrative that was starting to develop before Boris Johnson was taken into hospital, that he was trigger-happy and putting business ahead of people’s lives.”

“People are very reluctant to see lockdown lifted, according to polls,” added Taylor.

“The appeal to obey lockdown here has been rooted in guilt, emotion and solidarity with the NHS [National Health Service]- whereas in France, it was a case of a government-mandated order – ‘you will do this because we know what is best’. In the UK, there was more leeway to bend lockdown rules, though I think it is remarkable how much people have obeyed them. But when it comes to lifting those rules, there is now a risk that some people are going to be just too afraid to go out – while others think the lockdown is over – because of the confused media messaging, which the government has somewhat screwed up.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for this report on the discrepancy between its message and Thursday’s tabloid front pages, saying they had nothing further to add to the foreign secretary’s statement.

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