- ‘I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,’ the Johnson says
- ‘We will now accelerate the second jabs for the over-40s, just as we did for over-50s, to give them all maximum protection,’ he adds
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed his plans to lift coronavirus lockdown restrictions by a month on Monday, citing the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant and announcing plans to use the extra time to speed up vaccination.
“I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” he told a news conference, he said. The removal of restrictions would now take place on 19 July, instead of 21 June as previously hoped.
PM Johnson said he is “confident that we won’t need more than four weeks” as millions more people get fully vaccinated against the killer virus, which could save thousands of lives.
“It is sensible to wait a little longer,” Johnson said, as he confirmed that July 19 is now expected to be the date for a full unlocking and that he was “confident” that a further delay beyond that should not be required.
“We will now accelerate the second jabs for the over-40s, just as we did for over-50s, to give them all maximum protection,” he said, in reference to a planned acceleration of the vaccination programme.
The extra time would be used to speed up Britain’s vaccination programme – already one of the world’s furthest advanced – by shortening the recommended time between doses for those aged over 40 to eight weeks from 12 weeks.
The situation would be reviewed on June 28, which could allow the reopening to be brought forward, although Johnson’s spokesman said that was considered unlikely.
In recent weeks there has been fast growth in new cases caused by the Delta variant, first discovered in India. Health officials believe it is 60% more transmissible than the previous dominant strain and scientists have warned that it could trigger a third wave of infections.
Meanwhile, Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock was also scheduled to make a statement to the lower house of parliament on Covid-19 at about 1930 GMT on Monday, the leader of the House of Commons said on Twitter.
Under Britain’s plan for coming out of lockdown, all restrictions on social contact were set to be lifted next Monday. Many businesses, particularly those in hospitality and entertainment, voiced their disappointment ahead of the official announcement.
On Monday, Britain recorded 7,742 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths. Johnson said Britain was seeing cases growing by about 64% per week and the number of people in hospital intensive care was rising.
“By being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people,” he said.
Britain has officially reported almost 128,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the seventh-highest number globally.
Monday’s decision was based on scientific modelling which showed that, if the reopening went ahead as planned, under some scenarios hospitalisations could match those in March last year when ministers feared the health system could be overwhelmed.
A study earlier on Monday showed the Delta variant doubles the risk of hospitalisation, but two doses of vaccine still provide strong protection. Unlike in March 2020, the increase in hospitalisations was likely to be among younger people who require shorter treatment and are less at risk of dying.
Nevertheless, the risk of increased pressure on the health system meant that the tests the government set out for going ahead with the reopening had not been met.
Johnson sets COVID-19 restrictions for England, with devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making their own policy.
NO NEW SUPPORT
There are no plans to extend new support to businesses as a result of the delay.
“We deliberately extended most support well into the autumn because of the known uncertainty,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.
Britain’s furlough programme supports just over 2 million jobs and is due to continue until the end of September. But from July employers will have to pay 10% of furloughed staff’s wages, rising to 30% in September.
The hospitality industry has also called for an extension of other sector-specific aid.
Despite Monday’s delay, the government lifted some restrictions on the number of guests allowed to attend weddings, and will continue pilots of crowds at sporting events and theatrical shows.
Deutsche Bank estimated last week that a four-week delay would temporarily reduce gross domestic product by around 0.25% – a fraction of the historic 9.8% slump recorded in 2020.
The government had stressed any easing of restrictions would be irreversible, meaning it would always act with caution.
It comes despite Britain having one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world. More than 41 million people have received their first shot and nearly 30 million have had both doses – about 57% of the adult population.