A REMARKABLE U-turn on shielding, comparisons with John Major and dwindling respect for the Government were the topics debated by columnists and contributors in the newspapers.

The Guardian

Frances Ryan said an announcement on Sunday that the 2.2 million shielders could go outside from Monday came ‘out of the blue’.

“These are people who, for the last 10 weeks, have been told to stay in their homes 24/7, without any break for exercise or fresh air,” she said. “This marks a remarkable U-turn from ministers. Previous guidance advised that people with serious underlying health conditions would need to shield until the end of June.”

She said the Government’s advice to the shielders had been found wanting and many didn’t know how long they were to shield for, she added.

“The latest update – announced via tweets at 10pm on a Saturday night and trailed in the press – was like moving the goalposts on the quiet,” she said. “Rather than hearing it first from a government briefing or from their doctor, shielders had to find out about the change on social media.”

Some had been told by their doctors just 24 hours earlier they would need to shield for another month, she said.

“After weeks of mixed messaging, on top of the Dominic Cummings scandal, the impression is that this is policymaking on the hoof, risking “extremely vulnerable” people’s lives for little more than a short-lived PR stunt,” she added. “Only two days ago, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, insisted that the country was at a “very dangerous moment”. If some experts deem it too soon for healthy people, how are high-risk groups supposed to feel safe?”

She pointed out that Dublin has assigned two hour periods for the high risk groups only to go out to local parks and said the UK should follow suit. “It is a terrible feeling to not trust your own government to keep you safe.”

The Daily Express

Leo McKinstry said it was impossible not to be struck by the ‘uncanny parallels between Boris Johnson’s embattled Government and John Major’s beleaguered administration back in 1992.’

Just five months ago, the Conservatives won a large victory, he said - similar to Major in the 1990s.

“But suddenly, after just five months, the skies darkened for Major,” he said. “Against the backdrop of a worsening economy, Britain was humiliatingly forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on 16 September 1992, an event that became known as Black Wednesday because of the damage it inflicted on the Government’s credibility.Then in October a plan to close a third of Britain’s coal mines with the loss of 31,000 jobs caused outrage.”

Major’s ‘weak and incoherent’ administration never recovered, he said, and he lost in 1997 in one of the biggest landslides in history.

“Today Boris Johnson’s administration has taken a battering for its management of the COVID-19 emergency, with ministers under fire over everything from the neglect of care homes to inconsistencies in the lockdown,” he said. “According to the latest opinion poll at the weekend, the Tory lead over Labour has fallen to just four points, from 26 points. Boris must return to his previous energising form. He should get an immediate grip on the handling of COVID and rebuild a reputation for competence.”

The Scotsman

Christine Jardine, MP for Edinburgh West, said she had noticed a distinct shift in public mood recently.

“From an avalanche of emails from constituents to a near unanimity in media coverage there has been a consistent thread of opinion. We deserve better than this,” she said. “It would be too simplistic to say that the public’s faith began to dissolve in the spring sunshine of the Downing Street Rose Garden. When the Prime Minister stands at press conferences and dismisses genuine concern and criticism as political point-scoring, he misses the point.The voices raised are those of the people he was elected to serve.”

The actions of the Government suggest a ‘them and us’ approach, she said.

“The Government asked us to ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’. We did. The public has shown an enormous amount of respect for everything that the Government has asked us all to do. But that has to go both ways.”