Delta variant: Boris Johnson says spread of virus is of ‘serious, serious concern’

While no final decisions have been made yet, the Prime Minister is expected to announce a delay in the lifting of final restrictions in England

Boris Johnson has said the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus is a matter of “serious, serious concern” as he prepares to put lockdown lifting on hold.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce a delay of up to four weeks in the final easing of restrictions in England which had been due to take place on June 21 under the Government’s road map.

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‘More transmissible – and cases are going up’

The Prime Minister is expected to announce the delaying of lifting the final Covid restrictions in England (Photo: Hugh Hastings/Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

Speaking during the G7 summit in Cornwall, he insisted that no decisions had been taken ahead of a formal announcement on Monday.

However he made clear that there had been a deterioration in the situation, with a surge in cases of the Delta variant since the start of the month.

“It’s clear that the [Delta] variant is more transmissible and it’s also true that the cases are going up, and that the levels of hospitalisation are going up,” he told Sky News.

“Now, we don’t know exactly to what extent that is going to feed through into extra mortality, but clearly it’s a matter of serious, serious concern.”

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‘The road map is irreversible’

Asked if he was less optimistic now than he was at the end of May, Johnson said: “Yes, that’s certainly fair.

“What we want to do is make sure that the road map is irreversible, but you can’t have an irreversible road map unless you’re prepared to be cautious.

“Some of the data is still open to question, but we’ll be making an announcement on Monday.”

Government needs to be ‘cautious’

Experts have warned the Government to be “cautious” in regards to fully lifting lockdown measures in England due to the rise in cases of the Delta variant.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Nervtag advisory group, said that it was a “disappointing setback” that the Delta variant seemed even more successful than the previous strains.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “This Delta variant seems to be about 60% more transmissible [than the Alpha variant].

“So it really has gone up another gear and that means that we really have to double down and not lose all the advantage that has been gained by the massive effort that has been put in so far.”

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‘Hospitalisations are doubling’

Professor Tom Solomon, director of the Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool, said the country could not afford a “bad decision” on unlocking.

He told BBC Breakfast that while vaccines were having a “massive impact”, opening up could lead to hospitals being overwhelmed.

Prof Solomon added: “If you look at hospitalisations, they are doubling – the numbers are small but they are doubling approximately every seven days – and so if you then suddenly say we are going to open up completely we may end up with the hospitals overwhelmed again.

“So I think, unfortunately, we are just going to have to maybe give it another month until we have so many more people vaccinated.”

Delay lifting final restrictions

Their comments come as Boris Johnson looks set to delay the final lifting of restrictions in England following another sharp rise in cases of the Delta variant.

Ministers are considering putting back the relaxing of controls planned for June 21 for up to four weeks as they race to roll out the vaccine to younger age groups.

A final decision is expected to be taken on Sunday ahead of a formal announcement by the Prime Minister at a news conference the following day.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said it was “key” that the country did not trip up at the final hurdle and that restrictions will be lifted in “a way that is safe”.

Mr Cleverly told Times Radio on Saturday: “The point we’ve made right at the start of this progressive easing of lockdown is that we’ll be guided by the scientific evidence.

“This will be based on data rather than just on dates – and we want to make sure that we continue with the speedy rollout and vaccination process.

“But ultimately we do, all of us, want to get back to the normal way of living and have these restrictions lifted. But it’s really, really key that we don’t trip up, potentially at the final hurdle.

“And so we want to ease these restrictions in a way that is safe.”

Additional reporting by PA.