England’s “Freedom Day” has been pushed back nearly six weeks until 19 July, Boris Johnson has confirmed tonight, as cases of the so-called Delta variant of Covid-19 continue to rise.
The decision will be reviewed every day, and after two weeks the government will decide whether to go ahead with reopening sooner than now anticipated.
However, Johnson said that it was “unrealistic” that restrictions would be lifted before 19 July. Despite many affected businesses expressing their concern at the decision, there was no word on new financial support for the extra month of lockdown.
The working from home guidance will remain in place, along with other curbs, until the new date.
After 15 months of on-and-off lockdowns, the government had pledged to end all restrictions on 21 June.
But fears over the growing number of cases has now led ministers to delay the date of unlocking so that more people can be fully vaccinated against the disease.
Speaking from Downing Street tonight, the Prime Minister said that he needed to give the NHS just “a little more time” to make sure everyone over the age of 18 gets a vaccination.
“I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” Johnson said. “As things stand, and on the evidence that I can see right now. I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks.
“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. Because, by being cautious now, we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”
By July 19, he added, two-thirds of all adults in the UK will have been fully vaccinated against the disease.
23 and 24 year olds will be invited to book their first doses from tomorrow, Johnson confirmed.
The decision means that for now only up to six people will be allowed to meet inside, and restrictions on numbers of people meeting in pubs and restaurants will remain.
However, weddings will still be able to go ahead with more than 30 guests, Johnson said, provided social distancing remains in place, with the same rules applying to wakes.
The pub industry said it would lose £400m through the four week delay, warning that pubs were facing another “lost summer” due to the restrictions.
Trade bodies the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and London First called for immediate extra financial support for the sector.
But Johnson appeared to rule out any extension of the current financial assistance programmes available to businesses, some of which begin to taper off at the end of this month.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the government should “act urgently to extend economic support to all businesses who need it”.
He called for an extension to the full business rates holiday, the evictions moratorium and the existing furlough scheme until all restrictions are lifted.
Over 41m people in the UK have had a first dose of a vaccine, while nearly 30m have had two doses. There were 7,742 new infections reported today, but just three deaths.
In the last week, however, the number of cases of the Delta variant has begun to rise rapidly. In the worst affected areas, Johnson added, cases have doubled in the last week.