British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was yesterday expected to disappoint many people across England by saying that restrictions on social contact would remain for a few more weeks because of rising infections due to the COVID-19 delta variant.
The coronavirus variant first found in India is estimated by some to be at least 60 percent more contagious than the previous dominant strain. British scientists have urged the prime minister to err on the side of caution and postpone plans to lift most coronavirus restrictions in England on Monday next week. There is growing speculation that the rules would stay in effect until July 19.
For businesses, particularly those in hospitality and entertainment, any delays to what has been dubbed by the British media as “Freedom Day” would be a massive disappointment. A delay would be a particularly bitter pill for nightclubs, as they have not been allowed to reopen since March last year.
The expected delay would also impact how many fans are allowed into the Wimbledon tennis tournament, as well as European Championship soccer matches at Wembley Stadium, which are to host the tournament’s semi-finals and final.
Many businesses, including many pubs and theaters, have remained closed, despite the recent easing in restrictions as the reduced capacities allowed have meant it has not been financially viable.
“The reality is we have marched the troops up the hill,” said Howard Panter, 72, cofounder of theater operator Trafalgar Entertainment said. “Thousands of people have been mobilized in order to work in the theater industry, to start work from next Monday, and now we are being told, apparently: ‘Oh no, it’s not that date.’”
When Johnson first outlined the government’s four-stage plan for lifting the lockdown in England in February, he earmarked next Monday as the earliest date by which restrictions on people gathering would be lifted. However, he added at the time that the timetable was not carved in stone and that all the steps would be driven by the “data not dates” and would seek to be “irreversible.”
While hosting the G7 summit in southwest England over the weekend, Johnson conceded that he had grown more pessimistic about the possibility of pressing ahead with the next reopenings.
Still, there is growing speculation that Johnson would lift the cap on weddings after British Minister for Health Edward Argar told Sky News that couples waiting to wed are “very much” in the mind of the prime minister. At present, weddings are permitted, but with only 30 guests.
“There will be a lot of couples who planned, hoped to do it, put a line through it, done it again and rescheduled again,” he said. “Not only does that cost money, but emotionally that is incredibly difficult for couples who want to have their special day.”
The speed at which new COVID-19 infections cases have been rising has piled the pressure on Johnson to delay the reopening so more people can get vaccinated. Argar said 10 million second jabs would go into arms of people over the month, providing them with high protection against the delta variant.
On Sunday, the British government reported 7,490 new confirmed cases, one of the highest daily numbers since the end of February. Daily infections have increased threefold over the past few weeks, but are still way down from the nearly 70,000 daily cases recorded in January.
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