Newspaper headlines: Now or never, says PM, after lockdown ending ‘gamble’

By BBC News

Staff

image captionNearly all the papers are leading on the same story – the announcement by Boris Johnson that he plans to scrap laws in England enforcing masks and social distancing on 19 July, meaning pubs and theatres can operate without restrictions. Under the headline “It’s now or never, says Johnson”, The Telegraph says the PM suggested that Britain might not return to normality if it did not seize the opportunity now. It quotes him as saying: “If we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer, and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves. ‘when will be able to return to normal?'”
image captionThe Daily Mail also picks up on the prime minister’s “it’s now or never” remark made at a “sombre” Downing Street press conference. It says the PM warned a further delay to a return to normality would run the risk of trying to reopen in autumn or winter when “the virus has an edge”. But, the paper warns, there is confusion now over quarantine for summer holidays, the end of mandatory mask wearing and the future of working from home.
image captionThe timing of the PM’s move to lift restrictions is also the focus of the Times’ front page. It says that as Boris Johnson sought to end months of lockdown, he simultaneously urged caution – and added that tougher guidance might be needed in the winter. But the paper says he would “do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions, with all the costs that they bring”.
image captionThe Financial Times says Boris Johnson struck a downbeat note as he admitted that cases could almost double to 50,000 a day by the reopening date, with deaths likely to continue rising. The paper says he admitted restrictions might have to be reimposed in the winter and calls the removal of the legal requirement to wear a mask a “totemic move for lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs”.
image captionThe Guardian calls the move a gamble in its headline, above a picture of a worried-looking PM. The paper points out that when Boris Johnson revokes hundreds of Covid regulations, he’ll be making England the “most unrestricted society in Europe”. It says the “big bang” reopening has been branded “reckless” by Labour and the dropping of the legal requirement for masks has prompted a backlash from bereaved families and regional mayors.
image captionThe Metro’s headline reads: “Boris rolls the dice”. It says the PM has taken a bold gamble by declaring the last lockdown restrictions will lift on 19 July – even though daily Covid cases will rise and more people will die. It highlights Boris Johnson’s comments around the public being able to make their “own informed decisions” and his warning that the pandemic is “far from over”. “I don’t want people to feel this is the moment to get demob-happy, that this is the end of Covid,” he is quoted as saying.
image captionThe Mirror focuses on the concerns around the move to ditch masks in crowded places under the headline “Masking for trouble”. It quotes Jo Goodman, whose dad died of Covid, saying: “It’s hard to see what the logic is behind this.” The paper also mentions a poll which found most Britons want masks to stay on public transport.
image captionThe i turns its attention to efforts to get more people fully vaccinated. Under the headline, Double jabs push as masks rule is lifted, it says the PM has promised to speed up vaccinations, with all adults getting a second dose after eight weeks.
image captionThe Sun, which has its eye firmly on Wednesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final, pictures Boris Johnson and England stars Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling against a backdrop of the St George’s flag and the headline Free Lions. It says the PM has torn up social distancing laws and hailed July 19’s Freedom Day as an end to “government diktats”.
image captionThe Daily Star goes with the latest broadside from Dominic Cummings on its front page. In a blog post, the PM’s former top adviser wrote Boris Johnson “regularly admits it’s ludicrous he’s prime minister”.

A “gamble” is how The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mirror and Metro all see Boris Johnson’s intention to do away with most Covid restrictions in England in two weeks’ time.

The Guardian says England will become “the most unrestricted society in Europe”. The changes, it says, will make the country “an outlier in much of the rest of the world, where restrictions remain to combat infections”. It reports a “backlash” from Labour, bereaved families and regional mayors.

The science editor of The Times, Tom Whipple, believes “we are opening up just as we are riding a huge wave” of coronavirus infections. He says that while, ostensibly, the decision about unlocking will be made next week, really it was confirmed yesterday: “England’s, and by extension Britain’s, great gamble begins,” he says.

“Boris Rolls the Dice” is the headline in the Metro, which calls Mr Johnson’s decision “bold”. The i reports fears that the 19 July could become a “loss of freedom day” for the vulnerable if masks are no longer compulsory on public transport.

“Masking for Trouble” is the front page headline in the Daily Mirror, which says alarm is soaring at the prime minister’s decision to ditch compulsory face coverings.

Some of the papers are in celebratory mood. “Freedom at Last” declares the Daily Mail, which says that, with the prime minister defying “gloomy warnings from scientists”, the country will “almost” be back to normal.

The Sun looks forward to the prospect of drinks at the bar and full football stadiums once social distancing laws have been torn up, with the punning headline on a Euro 2020 theme: “Free Lions”.

The Daily Telegraph’s front page headline is: “It’s now or never, says Johnson”. The paper says the prime minister suggested that Britain might not return to normality if if didn’t seize the opportunity to end restrictions now. It says the decision to announce a return to individual responsibility over state intervention signals a change in the government’s approach.

“Britons are now condemned to be split into two hostile tribes” – those who wear masks and those who eschew such face coverings entirely.

That’s the fear of the Daily Mail’s John Naish. He predicts “a toxic atmosphere of acrimony, distrust and quite possibly violence” with mask-wearers and mask-ditchers infuriating each other.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sherelle Jacobs also predicts “a nasty culture war”. In her view, the clash is between freedom-lovers and those who want a zero-Covid utopia, with face masks as the focal point in an ideological battle.

The Daily Express agrees with Mr Johnson that the time is right to ease restrictions but urges its readers to enjoy their new-found freedom responsibly.

But the Sun’s leader writer maintains that the lifting of Covid rules will be “a joyous relief” as we regain precious liberties we lost in March last year. The paper praises Boris Johnson for his “political courage” in standing up to scaremongering doomsters, asking, “What do they want – another year of purgatory?”

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image captionEmma Raducanu’s future is bright, say the papers

Turning to other stories, the young British tennis star, Emma Raducanu, is pictured on many of the front and back pages – the disappointment showing on her face as she withdrew from her last-16 match at Wimbledon, with chest and stomach problems.

The Times and The Guardian report the anger of students about Manchester University’s decision to continue to provide lectures online rather than in person, beyond the end of the pandemic. More than 3,000 of them have signed a petition condemning the plan. The university says teaching which has an interactive element – including some lectures – will go ahead in person.

Offa’s Dyke is in danger, according to The Guardian. The paper reports that the earthwork – which it describes as Britain’s longest monument – is suffering serious damage through a combination of neglect, carelessness, land grabs and vandalism. A campaign is being launched to raise money to repair some sections, led by the artist, Dan Llywelyn Hall, who says “it’s more than a pile of displaced earth – it’s the physical incarnation of border culture”.

Many of the papers report the achievement of seven-year-old Valya Constable, the great-great-great-great grandson of the artist, John Constable, who’s had a sketch accepted for a Young Artists’ Show at the Royal Academy. Some 33,000 people aged under 20 sent entries. Valya was six when he drew his picture of his grandmother, capturing only her feet and ankles because, according to the Telegraph, he ran out of space on the paper.

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