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Prime Minister Boris Johnson delays end of Covid-19 restrictions from June 21 to July 19 to save ‘thousands of lives’

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the date for the end of England’s coronavirus restrictions is being put back by up to four weeks in order to save “thousands of lives”.

He told the nation on Monday evening that the final date on the roadmap had to be pushed back from June 21 to July 19 because of mounting concerns over the rapidly spreading Delta variant of Covid-19, first identified in India.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 (48190054)
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 (48190054)

Scientists and experts - including a number from the University of Cambridge - had warned that going ahead with step four of the plan in a week’s time as planned could lead to hospital admissions on the scale of the first wave of Covid-19 heaping unsustainable pressure on the health service.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s unmistakably clear that vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves.

“But now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”

The PM said he was “confident” all legal limits on social contact could be ended on July 19, by which point two-thirds of adults will have been offered both vaccine doses, thanks to the delay being coupled with a reduction in the 12-week delay between jabs for the over-40s.

Limits on the numbers at sports events, pubs and cinemas will remain in place, nightclubs will stay closed and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible.

While Downing Street left open the option of ending restrictions on July 5 if the data proves drastically better than expected, it was conceded that this is “unlikely”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

However, Mr Johnson did announce a limited easing of restrictions from June 21 amid the prospect of a rebellion from backbench Conservative MPs angry about the delay.

The 30-person cap for wedding ceremonies and receptions, as well as wakes, will be lifted, with limits to be set by venues based on social distancing requirements.

Care home residents will also no longer need to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving for visits in most cases.

Fans are expected to be able to attend the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final in Wembley as the pilots on attendance of large events continue.

But Mr Johnson said he had to delay the rest of the relaxations after at least one of his four tests for easing restrictions – that the risks are not fundamentally changed by new variants – had not been passed.

There were also suggestions that infection rates could lead to a surge in hospital admissions that could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK (48190058)
Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK (48190058)

Modelling by the Government’s Spi-M group suggested there was a possibility of hospital admissions reaching the heights of the first peak in March 2020 if the so-called ‘freedom day’ went ahead on Monday.

The Delta variant is driving the rapid accelerations in cases. It is estimated to be between 40 per cent and 80 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first found in Kent.

Some backbench Tories have voiced concerns over the cautious approach, citing concerns over the impact on the economy, particularly on hospitality and entertainment venues, such as theatres.

A vote in Parliament is expected on Wednesday giving the government to be given the legal powers to extend the restrictions, when some Conservative MPs are expeted to rebel. But Labour has indicated it will back the move.

The delay, which had been widely expected, will be welcomed by a number of Cambridge experts.

Earlier in June, Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said a delay of “a few more weeks rather than months” was needed to enable a full exit.

The vaccination has been accelerated so that by July 19, all over-18s will have been offered a first dose, while two-thirds will have had a second dose.

Public Health England data has shown Covid-19 vaccines are “highly effective” in preventing hospital admission with the Delta variant. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs are just as good at coping with the Delta variant as the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, the data suggests. PHE’s study of hospital admissions found:

  • The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 94 per cent effective against hospital admission after just one dose, rising to 96 per cent after two doses.
  • The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is 71 per cent effective against hospital admission after just one dose, rising to 92 per cent after two doses.

Data for Cambridgeshire showing rising numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases, and the first Covid-19 related death since April, although the numbers in hospital remain very low here.

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