What have the scientists said?
Dr Susan Hopkins, the strategic response director for Covid-19 at Public Health England (PHE), warned there may need to be further lockdowns over winter.
On 20 June, she told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We may have to do further lockdowns this winter, I can’t predict the future, it really depends on whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point.
“But I think we will have alternative ways to manage this, through vaccination, through anti-virals, through drugs, through testing that we didn’t have last winter.
“All of those things allow us different approaches rather than restrictions on livelihoods that will move us forward into the next phase of learning to live with this as an endemic that happens as part of the respiratory viruses.”
She said there were “rises and falls” in cases across the country, with the virus having “definitely reserved” in Bolton and “stabilised” in Blackburn with Darwen, but continuing to “rise quite fast” in London and the northeast.
Similarly, Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the government, has also warned that the emergence of new respiratory viruses means a “pretty miserable winter” for the UK with further lockdowns a possibility.
Also speaking on 20 June, Professor Semple told Times Radio: “I suspect we’ll have a pretty miserable winter because the other respiratory viruses are going to come back and bite us quite hard. But after that, I think we’ll be seeing business as normal next year.
“There’s a sting in the tail after every pandemic, because social distancing will have reduced exposure, particularly of pregnant women and their newborn babies, they will have not been exposed to the usual endemic respiratory viruses.
“The protection that a pregnant woman would give to their unborn child has not occurred.
“So we are going to see a rise in a disease called bronchiolitis, and a rise in community acquired pneumonia in children and in the frail elderly, to the other respiratory viruses for which we don’t have vaccines.
“So that’s why we’re predicting a rough July, August and then a rough winter period.”
Professor Semple called it the “fourth wave winter” but added it would be much milder than the previous ones.
What have the politicians said?
When he announced a delay to the final stage of lifting England’s lockdown last week, Boris Johnson told the public he was confident the restrictions will not need to continue beyond 19 July.
“We will monitor the position every day and if after two weeks we have concluded that the risk has diminished then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to Step 4 and full opening sooner,” the prime minister said.
“As things stand – and on the basis of the evidence I can see right now – I am confident we will not need any more than four weeks and we won’t need to go beyond 19 July”.
Health minister Sajid Javid warned that the UK would have to live with Covid, but said he was confident that lockdown restrictions would end in July. “We owe it to the British people… not to wait a moment longer than we need to,” he said, adding that 19 July would mark “not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country.
Kwasi Kwarteng has suggested it is “unlikely”the remaining Covid restrictions will be lifted before 19 July, stressing the government would “always err on the side of caution”.
Pressed on the date, the business secretary, Mr Kwarteng, who said he hoped for “some type of normality” on 19 July, told Sky News: “I think between you and me, I would always err on the side of caution and I would look to 19 July.
“It could be before, but I think that’s unlikely. Well, I don’t know, that’s just my guess. Generally we’ve stuck to the dates that we’ve said.
“I remember in the previous dates there was a lot of push to try to get the dates 12 April earlier, the 17 May earlier. That didn’t happen.”
Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford, has said another lockdown in the country is highly unlikely but not inconceivable because of the potential threat posed by coronavirus variants.
The Welsh Labour leader warned the risk of mutations developing which vaccinations are less effective against means “it simply doesn’t make sense” to rule out reimposing the highest level of restrictions.
Mr Drakeford has delayed the further easing of Wales’s Covid restrictions for four weeks in response to a spike in cases of the variant to see if they lead to increased pressure on the NHS.