Johnson says “it’s reasonable to wait a little longer,” as the Delta variant feeds a new wave of infections.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the forthcoming planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed by four weeks (until July 19) as a result of the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant.
“According to the evidence I can see right now, I’m sure we won’t need more than four weeks and we won’t have to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a news conference as he announced the planned June 21 delay reopening date.
The British prime minister said it was “senseless to wait a little longer” and that “now is the time to relax the accelerator”.
According to the government’s plan to get out of the closure, all restrictions on social contact would be removed next Monday. Many companies, particularly those in the hospitality and entertainment industries, expressed disappointment ahead of the official announcement.
The extra time would be used to speed up Britain’s vaccination program, already one of the most advanced in the world, shortening the recommended time between doses for people over 40 to eight weeks from 12 weeks.
“On Monday, July 19, we will try to double two-thirds of the adult population,” Johnson told the news conference.
The situation would be reviewed on June 28, which could allow the reopening to move forward, although Johnson’s spokesman said it was unlikely.
In recent weeks, there has been a rapid growth of new cases caused by the Delta variant, first discovered in India. Health officials believe it is 60 percent more transmissible than the previous dominant strain, and scientists have warned it could trigger a third wave of infections.
A study released Monday showed the Delta variant doubles the risk of hospitalization, but two doses of vaccine still offer strong protection.
On Monday, Britain recorded 7,742 new cases of COVID-19 and three deaths. Johnson said the UK saw cases grow by around 64 per cent a week and the number of people in hospital-intensive care was increasing.
“By being cautious now, we have the chances in the next four weeks of saving many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people,” Johnson said.
The UK has officially reported nearly 4.5 million cases and more than 128,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the seventh highest number in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Monday’s decision was based on scientific modeling that showed that if reopening continued as planned, in some cases hospitalizations could coincide with those of March last year when ministers feared the health system could overflow.
Unlike March 2020, the increase in hospitalizations is likely to occur among younger people who need shorter treatment and are less likely to die.