British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm on Monday that the next planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed as a result of the spread of the delta variant first identified in India.
While hosting the Group of Seven summit in south-west England, Johnson admitted over the weekend that he had become more pessimistic about the government lifting the remaining limits on social contact on 21 June than it had been since February. UK hit levels were not observed.
Under his government’s road map, nightclubs were set to reopen in March 2020 for the first time since the pandemic and all other legal limits on social contact were due to end by June 21 at the earliest, if coronavirus trends supported the move.
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. While daily infections have tripled in the past few weeks, they are still at the peak of the pandemic’s second wave from the nearly 70,000 cases reported in January.
Still, the speed at which cases are rising has put pressure on Johnson to delay, potentially by four weeks or more, hence dubbed “Independence Day” by sections of the British media. More people can be vaccinated before they leave.
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 both, which health experts consider acceptable levels of immunity.
The government aims to offer one vaccine dose 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.
The rapid rollout of vaccines and stricter months of lockdown helped reduce the number of virus-related deaths in the UK in recent months. Despite this, the country has recorded nearly 128,000 deaths in the pandemic, more than any other country in Europe.
As lockdown restrictions were eased, shops, theatres, gyms and most sectors of the economy operated under social distancing guidelines. The UK’s four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have lifted restrictions at different speeds, but have generally followed similar plans.
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