The path to restriction-free movement and experience pre-Covid times like freedom seemed cleared for residents of the United Kingdom up until last week. But on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a four-week delay to the final stage of lockdown in England, after a spike in cases of a highly transmissible Delta variant of Coronavirus in the country, pushing back what was supposed to be a ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21.
At a news conference at Downing Street after returning from the NATO summit in Brussels. Prime Minister said, “it is sensible to wait for just a little longer”. “We cannot simply eliminate coronavirus, we must learn to live with it,” he added. “Even if the link between infection and hospitalization has been weakened, it has not been severed.”
Under the final stage of the unlocking plan outlined by Johnson in February, the fourth and final phase of removing curbs was supposed to take place on June 21, in which restaurants, pubs and other hospitality places could have reopened fully. However, after the new announcement by Johnson on Monday, the full unlocking will certainly not happen until July 19, although there is a midway review that will happen July 5 to decide whether to go ahead with the full delay of four weeks or potentially extend it further.
So, why did Boris Johnson took the decision to delay unlocking plans and what curbs will remain in place? We unravel here:
Why did Boris Johnson delay the ending of lockdown?
The decision to postpone the final unlocking phase has been largely due to the surge in the Delta variant of Coronavirus in the country. UK has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly in the North West of England which is reporting a high number of Coronavirus cases. According to Public Health England data, at least 52,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, a 45 per cent increase from a week between June 1 and June 7. 80 per cent of area in England has seen a rise in the number of cases, while only 19 per cent have seen a decline in the number of Coronavirus cases. At the same time, hospitalisation numbers have risen to 50 per cent week on week basis, and by 61 p per cent in the north-west of England.
According to a BBC report, 4 per cent of confirmed cases are currently ending up in hospital although there is a lot of uncertainty around this, as the impact of the rise in infections in recent weeks is only just translating into admissions.
The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, accounts for 96 per cent of new Coronavirus cases. Data suggest Delta variant that the Delta variant is between 40 per cent and 80 per cent more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus.
There is a fear that fully unlocking the country will result in a rapid increase in the spread of the virus. By delaying the opening of the country, UK could get some extra time to reduce the rising number of cases in this period, and immunity achieved in the population due to vaccination will make it much harder for the virus to spread. UK’s vaccination campaign has been one of the most successful in the world. According to the Financial Times COVID-19 vaccine tracker, UK has administered over 71 million total doses of vaccines till June 12. The percentage of vaccinations per 100 people also stands at 106.8 per cent. The extending of restrictions will allow time for the government to vaccinate a greater number of people. UK government is planning to speed up vaccination programme for all adults with the first dose of vaccine by 18 July. To facilitate the increase in vaccination for over 40+ population, the government has already shortened the wait time between the first and second injection from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
What curbs will remain in place?
From June 21 onwards, UK would have started the easing of the fourth and final phase of lockdown. However, after the decision to delay the unlocking, businesses like nightclubs will remain closed. Pubs, theatres and clubs will have to operate within capacity limits. There will also be a limit on how many people can meet in a group, either indoors or outdoors. Wearing of masks will continue and people will be encourage to work from home.
Although, the number of guest at a wedding will no longer be limited to just 30 and venues will have to follow social distancing protocols.
On Monday, Britain reported 7,742 new COVID-19 cases along with three deaths.