LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to disappoint many across England by saying that restrictions on social contact will last for a few more weeks due to rising infections caused by the delta variant.
For businesses, especially in hospitality and entertainment, any delay dubbed “Independence Day” by the British media would be a huge disappointment. The delay will be a particularly bitter pill for nightclubs, as they have not been allowed to reopen since March 2020.
The expected delay will also affect how many fans are allowed at the Wimbledon tennis tournament as well as European Championship football matches at Wembley Stadium, which will host the tournament’s semi-finals and final.
Despite the recent easing of restrictions, many businesses, including many pubs and theaters, have remained closed because the reduced capacity allowed means it is not financially viable.
“The reality is we’ve got soldiers up the hill,” said the 72-year-old co-founder of theater operator Trafalgar Entertainment. “Thousands of people have been mobilized to work in the theater industry, to start work next Monday, and now we’re being told clearly: ‘Oh no, it’s not that date’.”
When Johnson first outlined the government’s four-stage plan to lift the lockdown in England in February, he set 21 June as the earliest date by which to lift restrictions on gatherings Will go However, he insisted at the time that the timetable was not set in stone and that all steps would be driven by “data not date” and would seek to be “immutable”.
While hosting the Group of Seven summit in south-west England over the weekend, Johnson admitted he had become more pessimistic about the prospect of going ahead with the next re-opening.
Still, there is growing speculation that Johnson will remove the cap on weddings after Health Minister Edward Arger told Sky News that couples looking forward to the wedding are “too much” on the prime minister’s mind. Weddings are currently allowed but with only 30 guests.
“There would be a lot of couples who had planned, hoped to do it, put a line through, did it again and rescheduled,” he said. “Not only does that cost money, but it’s also incredibly difficult emotionally for couples who want to have their own special day.”
The speed at which cases of the new coronavirus infection are rising has put pressure on Johnson to delay reopening so that as many people as possible can get vaccinated. Argar said that 10 million second jabs would go into people’s arms within a month, giving them higher protection against the Delta variant.
Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist at University College London who is a member of a group advising the government, said the lifting of the remaining restrictions could ignite the “flames” of rising infections. He compared the process to driving a car around a turn without knowing what’s around the corner.
“I think it’s clear that we’re going to have a big third wave of infections, the really big question is which wave of infections is going to lead to hospitalizations,” Hayward told the BBC.
On Sunday, the British government reported 7,490 new confirmed cases, one of the highest daily numbers since late February. Daily infections have tripled in the past few weeks, but are still less than the nearly 70,000 daily cases reported in January.
Many blame the Conservative government for the spike in infections, saying it acted too slow to impose strict quarantine requirements on all people arriving from India, which has endured a devastating resurgence of the virus.
Across Europe, several countries, including France, have tightened restrictions for British travelers to prevent the delta variant from spreading.
The UK vaccine rollout has won praise as one of the world’s fastest and most consistent. As of Sunday, about 62% of the British population had received one shot, while about 44% had received two jabs.
The government aims to offer one dose of the vaccine to every adult in the UK by the end of July. The administration developed in Wales said it would have offered each adult a jab by Monday, six weeks ahead of schedule.
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