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?”
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.