LONDON – Boris Johnson has announced a four-week delay until the end of the lockdown in England as the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly in parts of the country.
The Prime Minister said “it is reasonable to wait a little longer” at a press conference in Downing Street after returning from the NATO summit in Brussels.
“We cannot just eliminate the coronavirus, we have to learn to live with it,” he added. “Even though the link between infection and hospitalization has been weakened, it has not been broken.”
“Now is the time to let go of the accelerator,” he said, to give the NHS time to vaccinate more of the adult population.
The remaining public health restrictions were due to be lifted on June 21, but government science advisers have expressed fears that a new reopening could trigger a dangerous increase in hospitalizations.
Johnson insisted he was “confident” that there would be no further delay despite the first break with the government’s planned roadmap for a complete relaxation of the rules.
The government will also reduce the interval between vaccine doses over 40 years of age, fearing that a single vaccine will not provide sufficient protection.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalization after two doses, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers 92% protection, according to a new analysis from Public Health England.
Data suggests that the Delta variant – which was first detected in India – is between 40% and 80% more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus, and in a third of countries infections are doubling every week.
The Prime Minister has decided on an exemption for weddings, which will have no limit on the number of guests as long as the indoor places respect social distancing and offer table service.
There are currently no plans to review support for businesses, as the leave scheme is set to decrease before ending in September.
Pilots involving big events will continue, the prime minister’s spokesperson told reporters earlier, adding that participation in the Euro 2020 football tournament would not be affected by the halt to the full reopening.
The government is expected to review the data on July 5 and decide whether to go ahead with the full four-week deadline or possibly extend it further.
Earlier, House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle chastised Downing Street for holding a press conference on the changes without first notifying MPs of changes to the reopening schedule.
Hoyle accused No 10 of “trampling on” Parliament in a “totally unacceptable” way and said he would seek to meet with the Prime Minister.
Seventy-one percent of people support extending COVID measures, according to a snapshot poll from YouGov.
However, Johnson is already facing a backlash from members of his own party demanding to know what level of vaccination in the general population will be considered safe.
A parliamentary clash is slated for later in the week, when the government will have to seek MP approval to extend the current rules that would otherwise expire on June 30.
The opposition Labor Party will back the extension, although its leader Keir Starmer has criticized what he called the government’s “pathetic” border policy, which he says has contributed to the rise in infections.
This article has been updated.