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Delta Variant

Boris Johnson confirms England will not lift last of restrictions until 19 July due to variant fears

Cases have significantly increased across Great Britain in the last three weeks.

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UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has announced a four-week delay to the planned easing of most pandemic restrictions due to a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases caused by a more transmissible variant.

The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on 21 June after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.

Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day”, which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.

But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.

The restrictions will instead be lifted on Monday 19 July.

Limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas will therefore remain in place, nightclubs will stay shuttered and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible.

An exception will be made for the 30-person limit on weddings and wakes, which will be lifted from 21 June. Pilot events such as Euro 2020 and some theatrical performances will continue.

The postponing of the final set of restrictions being eased is hoped to give the NHS “a few more crucial weeks” in order to get more people vaccinated against Covid-19.

“A proportion of the elderly may still succumb, even if they have had two jabs,” Johnson said in his announcement this evening.

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He said that cases are increasing by 64% a week, and in some areas are doubling per week. Cases in hospitals and ICUs are also rising, Johnson said.

“There is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines, and that thousands more deaths would ensue which could otherwise have been avoided,” he said, but added that there wouldn’t need to be a delay longer than four weeks.

“It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves,” he added.

Johnson said that all adults will have received at least one dose by 19 July, and around two-thirds of the adult population would have received two jabs, including all over-50s, the vulnerable and health and care workers, along with over-40s who had received a first dose by mid-May.

Health policy is a devolved matter for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; Scotland, originally due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on 28 June, is also expected to announce a delay.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is to give a statement to parliament tomorrow.

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The latest daily figures from Sunday showed another rise in infections with a further 7,490 lab-confirmed cases in the UK – up 2,149 from a figure of 5,341 the previous week.

Modelling by the British Government’s Spi-M group suggested there was a possibility of hospital admissions reaching the heights of the first peak in March 2020 if the relaxation went ahead next Monday.

Experts believe the Delta variant is between 40% and 80% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, first found in Kent.

Ministers were expected to hold a vote in the British parliament on Wednesday in order for Johnson’s government to be given the legal powers to extend the restrictions.

Johnson will hope the limited restrictions he has approved will reduce the scale of the rebellion on the Tory backbenches – though MPs and the House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle are angry that parliament was not informed of Johnson’s revised plan before journalists, who were leaked details of the plan ahead of today’s announcement.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha and the Press Association.

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