Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a delay to the ending of all lockdown restrictions in England today, amid concerns over rising Covid infections.
The move follows warnings from scientists that the rapid spread of the Delta Covid variant, which was first identified in India, risks a “substantial” third wave if it is allowed to spread unchecked.
What time is Boris Johnson speaking?
Mr Johnson will announce the decision as to whether the easing of restrictions on 21 June can go ahead as planned at a Downing Street press conference on Monday (14 June) evening.
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Downing Street has confirmed that the Prime Minister will make the announcement at 6pm, and will be joined by England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
The delay will mean that social limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas will likely remain in place, nightclubs will be forced to remain closed, and people will continue to be encouraged to keep social distancing and working from home.
How long could lifting lockdown be delayed?
Mr Johnson is expected to announce a month-long delay to the ending of all lockdown restrictions in England, which was due to take effect on 21 June.
Instead, this date is due to be pushed back by four weeks to 19 July, with the BBC reporting on Monday that the decision has been signed off by senior ministers.
Members of the public are expected to be asked to show patience, with the delay being the final push to ensure that when restrictions finally do end, it will be “irreversible”.
The impending delay to ending lockdown has been met with backlash among some Tory MPs, who argue there is no reason not to go ahead with the unlocking on 21 June as those who are most at risk of death or serious illness from Covid-19 are now fully vaccinated.
Former minister Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, said any postponement would be a “political choice”.
He warned that if the unlocking did not go ahead as planned, restrictions could carry on through the autumn and into the winter as other respiratory infections picked up.
He said: “The effectiveness of our vaccines at preventing hospitalisation means unlocking on June 21 could proceed safely. Any decision to delay will be a political choice.
“Variants and mutations will appear for the rest of time. We have to learn to live with it.
“If our very effective vaccines cannot deliver us freedom from restrictions, then nothing ever will.”
Why is a lockdown delay needed?
Rising cases of Covid-19 across the country, alongside increasing hospital admissions, are likely to have persuaded ministers to impose a delay on the final stage of the lockdown roadmap.
The Delta Covid variant now accounts for up to 96 per cent of new coronavirus cases in the UK, and it is up to 60 per cent more transmissible compared with the Alpha variant, which originated in Kent last year.
While the vaccine rollout is estimated to have averted more than 14,000 deaths among older people, just under half of all adults in England are not yet fully vaccinated.
A total of 70.7 million people have now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with 29.5 million people fully vaccinated.
However, this means only 44.2 per cent of the population are fully inoculated against the disease.
Despite the successful vaccine rollout, the proportion of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England has increased in recent weeks.
Around one in 560 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to 5 June, which was up from one in 640 in the previous week, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This marked the highest level since the week to 10 April.
The downward trend in Covid-19 infections since January has now gone into reverse, with the latest numbers continuing to show an increase.
The rate of new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in England is now at its highest level for more than three months.
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