July 4 is being hailed as its own sort of British Independence Day – a “Super Saturday” when many of the UK’s remaining coronavirus lockdown restrictions are being lifted or relaxed. The end of the country’s “long national hibernation,” Boris Johnson said last week, will be marked by the reopening of pubs, restaurants, hair salons, hotels, museums, theatres and other venues. Social distancing measures are being softened, and individuals will be allowed to spend time in the company of more people.
“Frankly I can’t wait to go to a pub or a restaurant,” Johnson said at a news conference last week. “I think people need to go out, and I think they need to enjoy themselves, and rediscover things that they haven’t been able to do for a long time.”
Even as Johnson and other world leaders declare victory, however, the virus has delivered a series of unsettling reality checks. There have been worrying outbreaks recently in Germany, South Korea, Italy, China and New Zealand. In the United States, the number of coronavirus cases has been surging in many states. On Monday evening, the UK government introduced its first local lockdown, isolating 330,000 people in Leicester from the rest of the country after the number of cases there spiked.
“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation, said on Monday.
“Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up,” he said.
It’s tempting to blame irresponsible individuals for the spiking infection rates. Since the beginning of the pandemic and the ensuing national lockdowns, social media has been filled with posts shaming people for congregating in parks and other public spaces, milling about in front of bars and restaurants without regard for social distancing, or failing to wear face masks.