PM delays lockdown easing as Covid cases rise

"Unlocking" unlikely to go ahead until 19 July at the earliest, rather than 21 June
Boris Johnson announces the delay to lockdown easing. Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Boris Johnson has confirmed that lockdown easing will be delayed by four weeks to cope with the surge in Delta variant cases amid fear that hospitalisations could reach the scale of the first peak of the pandemic.

Speaking from Downing Street, the prime minister said the next stage of unlocking will now not take place until 19 July at the earliest, after new data revealed the variant is up to 80% more transmissible.

He also revealed that hospitalisations across the country are rising, with the number of Covid patients needing hospital care increasing by 50% week-on-week in England, and by 61% in the north west. 

The UK is currently recording its highest number of cases since February, at around 8,000 cases a day –a figure that is growing by 64% week-on-week.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said yesterday that work by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which advises the Department for Health and Social Care, suggests that going ahead with step four of Johnson's roadmap our of lockdown could lead to “hospitalisations around the peak of the first wave”.

At the peak of the first wave of the virus, 20,000 people were in hospital with Covid. 

Businesses that will have to close for another four weeks will not get any further financial support following the delay, the government has confirmed.

And there are no plans to extend the ban on evictions, which expired at the end of May. 

There will be changes to weddings, however. From 21 June, an unlimited number of guests will be allowed at ceremonies and receptions, provided social distancing is observed.

Ministers are expected to review the extended restrictions on 28 June, with the possibility that current rules could be lifted on 5 July if the data has significantly improved.

However, it is expected that the next stage of lockdown lifting will not go ahead until 19 July.

The government made the decision to delay the roadmap as test four of its route out of lockdown – that the assessment of risk is not fundamentally changed by a new variant of concern – has not been passed. 

The other three tests – that the vaccine programme is running successfully; that vaccinations reduce hospitalisations and deaths; and that infection rates do not risk overwhelming the NHS – have been passed.


To cope with the rising number of cases, the government will reduce the gap between jabs for the over-40s from the current twelve week wait to eight weeks.

This means that the majority of that age group will have been offered two vaccine doses by mid-July, while all over-18s will have been offered their first dose.

It is expected that two-thirds of adults will have been offered two doses by 19 July, which it is hoped will reduce hospital admissions.

Fresh data from Public Health England has revealed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said thousands of deaths can be prevented if more people get two doses. 

“Vaccine effectiveness especially after two doses means thousands of more deaths can be prevented if more people are jabbed,” they said. 

“As the chief medical officer said, at some stage we were going to have to live with this virus as we do with flu. 

“But when we have effective vaccines and a variant that needs two doses for maximum protection, it is right to allow more time to save lives.”

And asked whether the UK has enough doses to allow for this boost in the rollout, the spokesperson said there is a “robust supply” of vaccines and that the acceleration is possible because younger people are not being given the AstraZeneca jab.

“The majority of over-40s have had one dose, but not two doses, of AstraZeneca. And because we're not giving that to younger cohorts, we've got scope to shorten the distance between doses to eight weeks,” they said.

“That's what gives the NHS the ability to accelerate through second doses, which are particularly important in addressing the Delta variant.”

Kate Proctor is political editor and Eleanor Langford is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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