By Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday that the much-anticipated full lifting of all coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England on June 21 will be delayed by four weeks to July 19 due to rising cases of the Delta variant.
Johnson said at a press conference that owing to the speed of the UK’s vaccination program, Britain had one of the most open economies and societies in Europe but that this has “inevitably been accompanied by more infection and more hospitalisation.”
"Now is the time to ease off the accelerator," he said.
The prime minister said he wanted progress to be “cautious but irreversible.”
Johnson said the links between cases and hospitalizations and hospitalizations and deaths had been weakened but not severed.
The extra four weeks will give the health service more time to double-jab the population.
Johnson also announced an acceleration of the country’s vaccination program, with people over 40 now having to wait just eight weeks for their second jab rather than 12 weeks, and 23 and 24-year-olds will be offered vaccines from tomorrow.
He also brought forward the government’s commitment to offer every adult over 18 years old a vaccine by the end of July to July 19.
This means two-thirds of adults will have been offered both doses by July 19.
There were tweaks to the current set of lockdown rules, including the lifting of the 30-person limit for weddings.
There will also be more pilot schemes for mass events, including the Euro 2020 football tournament.
The decision will be met with dismay by the entertainment and hospitality sectors, which had pinned their hopes on June 21 being the end of lockdown restrictions and had called on the government to keep to that date.
The four-week delay will face a vote in parliament. Despite a significant minority of Johnson’s own Conservative Party being opposed to the continuation of lockdown measures, the prime minister’s proposal will easily pass with the support of the opposition Labour Party.
Johnson said the UK could not eliminate COVID and must learn to live with it.