A four-week delay to the lifting of all Covid restrictions in England has been announced by Boris Johnson.
In a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening (14 June), the prime minister confirmed the government’s “roadmap to freedom” would be delayed from 21 June to 19 July.
The decision follows around 38,000 new coronavirus infections in England in the seven days to 9 June, according to Public Health England.
Johnson said the Delta variant had fuelled a surge in new Covid cases - growing by 64% per week and doubling in the worst affected areas.
He told the public it was “sensible to wait just a little longer” to end all restrictions.
“We’ve obviously faced a very difficult choice – we can keep going, even though there is a real possibility that the virus can outrun the vaccine and thousands more deaths would ensue that could otherwise have been avoided - or otherwise, we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them,” he added.
By 19 July, Johnson said the government was aiming to “have double-jabbed two-thirds of the adult population” and have offered every adult their first vaccine dose.
Despite the delay in restrictions being lifted, the prime minister confirmed weddings and wakes could still go ahead with more than 30 guests as long as social distancing measures are adhered to.
Johnson said the government would also continue to pilot large public events.
He confirmed the progress of infection rates would be monitored “every day” and reassessed in a fortnight – with restrictions being lifted sooner “if after two weeks we conclude the risk has diminished”.
“I’m confident we won’t need more than four weeks [of delay]," he added. “It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine rollout has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves but now is the time to ease off the accelerator.
“By being cautious now, we will have the chance to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”
The impact of the domestic restrictions delay upon international travel remains to be seen but could potentially postpone any expansion to the government’s “green list” of countries with quarantine exemptions when returning to the UK.
The next update on changes to the traffic light list is thought to be on 24 June, with an official review of the system taking place on 28 June.
Reacting to Johnson’s announcement, Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said the delay was “a further blow to many businesses in the UK, not least the travel industry”.
“For 15 months the travel industry has been unable to trade its way to recovery due to border closers, legal barriers and a woefully short green list,” she said.
“A complete lack of government support means that many businesses are now fighting to keep the lights on. We urge government to ensure that whilst this domestic delay is implemented they must still allow for international travel to return safely and in a risk-managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic light system.
Lo Bue-Said called for the green list to be expanded on 24 June “in line with the evidence, and with more proportionate restrictions” and for the government to offer the travel industry a tailored package of financial support.
Abta chief Mark Tanzer said the government’s delay highlighted “the importance of a rethink” around ongoing financial support for companies “that continue to find their trade severely constrained by government policy”.
“The government must look at extending the existing support measures for businesses, including delaying the increase in furlough contributions, extending protections from commercial landlords, and keeping full business rates relief, which are due at the end of this month,” said Tanzer.
“When it comes to travel businesses, ministers need to acknowledge that even once the domestic economy unlocks, they will continue to be under constraints within the traffic light system.
“As we head into the critical summer season, where travel companies ordinarily earn the majority of their income, we must finally see a package of tailored financial support for travel agents and tour operators. Without this tailored support, we will continue to witness people across the country lose their businesses, many of which are independent family firms that have been in existence for decades, and many thousands more people will lose their jobs.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, said: “Tourism businesses across the UK are balanced on a knife edge, struggling to remain viable while adhering to restrictions, and today’s announcement will put people’s livelihoods at risk and slow down the recovery of our towns and cities.
“Prolonging restrictions affects the whole tourism supply chain, in addition to hospitality business, and although health and safety must always come first, the Government must act swiftly and implement additional support measures for both hospitality and travel businesses.”