England's final step out of lockdown set to be delayed
The nation press services
2021-06-14 | Since 1 Month
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will encourage the public to be patient as he announces an expected four-week delay to the final step of easing Covid-19 restrictions in England.
Mr Johnson will set out his decision on the June 21 end to restrictions later on Monday amid concerns a rapid rise in cases caused by the Delta variant could lead to a surge in hospital admissions.
He is expected to lift a 30-person limit on weddings and allow more outdoor seated sporting and cultural events to take place with large crowds.
However, extending restrictions for up to another month means mask-wearing, the six-person limit on indoor groups and the one-metre social distancing rule will continue.
The delay is a blow to the entertainment and hospitality sector. Many businesses have been closed or are operating under tight controls.
But Mr Johnson is understood to view the delay as the “final stretch” as he seeks to encourage more vaccinations before rules are eased. He will plead with the public to be patient with the final step to ensure it is “irreversible”.
Senior ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are understood to have signed off on the delay after a briefing from chief medical officer Chris Whitty and scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Health Minister Edward Argar said on Monday the prime minister was concerned about a “big jump” in cases caused by the Indian strain, also known as the Delta variant.
“We now know it is about 40 per cent more infectious than the Alpha variant,” he told Sky News.
“That’s what’s driving the spike and we’ve gone in a week from around 12,000 cases of Delta variant to about 42,000 – that’s a big jump, reflecting the fact that it’s more infectious and driving the concern.”
Mr Johnson on Saturday said he felt less optimistic than two weeks earlier.
“It’s clear that the Indian variant is more transmissible and it’s also true that the cases are going up, and that the levels of hospitalisation are going up,” he said.
“We don’t know exactly to what extent that is going to feed through into extra mortality but clearly it’s a matter of serious, serious concern.”
In the past week, Britain has delivered about 170,000 first Covid-19 vaccine doses a day.
At that rate, 4.5 million more first doses could be delivered during the four-week delay.
The Scottish government at the weekend announced it would shorten the interval between the first and second vaccine doses for people aged over 40 to provide more protection against the variant.
Prof Devi Sridhar from the University of Edinburgh said two doses provided as much protection as possible.
“Right now the layers of protection we have for individuals are the best tool we have to avoid serious illness and have people come into hospital,” she told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.
“We are already seeing a third wave of cases, largely in younger people. The worry is that it will slowly move, like it has in previous waves, to older groups.”
Prof Anthony Harnden from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine offered just 33 per cent protection against the Delta variant.
He said it “made sense” to shorten the interval between doses and government advisers would consider extending the strategy across England.