Mon, October 18, 2021

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Boris Johnson delays end of Englands coronavirus restrictions as delta variant cases climb


LONDON - June 21 was supposed to mark Englands "freedom day," when the countrys remaining coronavirus restrictions would end, but the government has opted to keep them in place at least through July 19 due to concern over rising cases and a fast-spreading variant.

Boris Johnson announced the delay late Monday. "Now is the time to ease off the accelerator," he said. "I am confident we will not need more than 4 weeks and we will not go beyond July 19. But now is the time to ease off the accelerator."

Johnson had set the timeline for full reopening in February, as British vaccination efforts gained steam. Local governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales set their own targets, but all had plans to relax rules in late June.

Britain has fully vaccinated 44.6% of its population, according to tracking from The Washington Post, compared to 43.4% of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

British newspaper began reporting on the expected pushback Monday morning.

"Wait Four It," read the front page of the Daily Mirror on Monday, referring to the four-week delay, along with the words "freedom day on hold," while the Daily Mail's front cover read "Ecstasy and Agony," which was a tribute to the England soccer team's Euro win against Croatia on Sunday and commiseration that the June 21 deadline probably would be pushed back.

Appearing on Sky News on Monday, Edward Argar, a junior health and social care minister, confirmed government worries about rising cases of the delta virus variant, which was first discovered in India. He described it as 40% more infectious than the earlier alpha variant first found in Britain.

"That's what's driving the spike. We've gone in a week from 12,000 cases to about 40,000 cases, and that's a big jump," he said, describing it as "highly, highly infectious." Scientists estimate 90% of the new cases in Britain are from the delta variant.

The symptoms of the delta variant, labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, include a headache and runny nose. The strain is now dominant in almost every region of the country, according to recent data.

Delta variant spread puts Boris Johnson in a tough spot, as he weighs whether U.K. should fully reopen

The idea behind the delay, according to reports, is to get more people vaccinated, especially with their second dose, before all restrictions are lifted. Recent studies indicate that after a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines, people are only about 33% protected from the delta variant, but that increases to more than 80% with the second dose.

Britain has concentrated on getting as many people as possible a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. About 41 million people, or nearly 79% of the adult population, have received at least one shot. Only 30 million people, however, are fully vaccinated.

The Guardian reported Monday that Johnson's choice to delay the easing of more restrictions "could keep thousands out of hospital," allowing for as many as 9 million more people to receive their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

The extension of restrictions would mean nightclubs would remain closed and limits would continue on indoor dining, sports venues, weddings and cinemas. People will continue to be encouraged to work from home and to continue wearing face coverings in public spaces. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has in the past expressed hope that wearing masks on public transportation to reduce the virus's transmission may become the standard as life returns to normal.

Speaking to LBC Radio on Monday, Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, blamed what he called the government's "pathetic" border policy for the delay in easing restrictions, arguing that if India had been added to the government's travel red list sooner, the delta variant might not have spread as rapidly.

The British government has long been criticized for its handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 128,000 people in the country. Many say that Britain was not shut down soon enough - with Johnson waiting until March last year to urge people to stay home. National Health Service workers also say they had inadequate access to personal protective equipment and testing - especially in the early months of the pandemic.

The government has also been scrutinized for not shutting borders or imposing travel restrictions soon enough - with many asking why and how the variant first identified in India was able to spread on British soil so freely.

On social media on Monday, many exasperated Britons took to Twitter to vent their frustration that after three nationwide shutdowns, freedom day had been delayed. Using the hashtag #lockdownextension, many wrote they were fed up with restrictions, while others contemplated what Johnson's decision would mean for the entertainment industry and those planning to get married this summer.

Tweeting the prime minister directly, one wrote: "Just wondering, do we continue planning our July wedding? Can we start feeling excited? Should we pay suppliers in full? Do we need to start uninviting family and friends?! Please give us good news and clarity #whataboutweddings."

Published : June 15, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Jennifer Hassan, Paul Schemm, Adam Taylor