Later this evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a four-week delay in the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in the UK.
While the final decision is still pending, mounting infections and hospital admissions are expected to persuade the Prime Minister to abandon plans to ease restrictions.
He selected June 21 as the start date for Stage Four of the government’s “roadmap” for loosening regulations. However, the plan is likely to be derailed due to rising incidence rates fueled by the Indian variant.
According to the most recent numbers, there were 7,738 instances in the last 24 hours, up 52.5 percent in a week. A total of 187 people were admitted to the hospital, up 15.2 percent over the rolling seven-day average.
Step four, which was supposed to abolish the six-person limit for indoor gatherings, is expected to be delayed by up to four weeks, according to a number of government advisors, and will be implemented on July 19.
One expert, Dr. Raghib Ali of the Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University, said a postponement to June 21 was “inevitable.”
“a four-week delay would be optimal,” Dr. Ali said, adding, “What I expect the PM to say is based on that data, unfortunately, a delay is needed to make sure we don’t get to the situation again where the NHS is unable to provide care to all its patents.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed that the June 21 easing would be postponed, emphasizing that the move was always intended to take place “no sooner than June 21.”
Top Tory ministers have admitted that they are “racing” to get more individuals double-jabbed before speaking out.
Mr. Raab also argued that the UK should “sever” rather than “weaken” the link between cases and hospital admissions.
This seemed to be a significant departure from the government’s “four tests,” which only said that cases should not “risk a surge in hospitalizations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Downing Street, on the other hand, pushed back, telling reporters, “We have the four tests and those have not changed.”
“The race we’re in is to get everyone up as far as we possibly can to two doses,” Foreign Secretary Mr. Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
He explained, “Because that maximizes the effectiveness both of risk of serious harm to people, but also we know it’s more effective at cutting the transmission. So I think it is right to characterize that as the test.” He added, “The question is what the evidence says about whether we’ve broken the link – severed the link, not just weakened it – between transmission and hospitalization.” He continued, “We want to move out of lockdown irreversibly and that means we have to be very careful about that data.”
As the Delta variation spreads across the UK, government advisors have banded together to argue for a delay.
It is thought to be at least 60% more transmissible than the Kent strain, which caused a winter spike and ruined Christmas.
The New and Emerging Virus Threat Advisory Group’s adviser Peter Openshaw warned of a “quite concerning spike” in infections and hospitalizations.
“We do need to concentrate on getting as many people as possible vaccinated over the next few weeks to counter the rise of [the Indian variant],” Professor Openshaw told Times Radio.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours told Times Radio: “I think we’ll hear a delay because all the data now points that way.
“In a situation where things are getting worse, we don’t know how much worse they’re going to get,” said Professor Openshaw. “We don’t know how many people are going to get seriously ill. There’s still a lot of damage that can be done, therefore it makes good sense to pause.” He explained, “I think pausing not moving forward is not enough when things are getting worse and we should be thinking about all sorts of measures, not further restrictions, not lockdown, but the basics that we’ve never got right.” He continued, “There are all sorts of things we should be doing better to lower the level of infections to make sure we’re not going backwards. The real issue now isn’t should we go forwards … it’s how do we stop ourselves going backwards?”
This summer, Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry predicts that British tourists will have to forego their vacations abroad.
“I think it’s very unlikely people will be able to go abroad this summer, I’m afraid,” the Shadow Trade Secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. She said, “We need to hear what the ministers say, they need to give us clear instructions. People will do the right thing, so long as they know what it is they’re expected to do,” she explained. “The problem time and time again is it really hasn’t been clear.”
Professor Andrew Hayward, Director of College London’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, warned the government not to proceed with Step Four just yet, telling BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We have got to be really cautious because there is still a substantial chance we could have a wave of hospitalisations which could put substantial pressure on the NHS.” He continued, “You don’t put your foot on the pedal if you’re driving down a road and going to a corner and you’re not sure what’s around that curve.”
Hospitality executives requested “certainty” from the government as well as further funding.
Shepherd Neame’s chief executive, Jonathan Neame, stated: “The key thing right now is a certainty if there has to be a delay then it should be short and time-specific because we need to be absolutely certain that things will change from that date. What we absolutely can’t have is a return to a cycle of five-week reviews without knowing how things will end up.”
Tory backbenchers increased pressure on the Prime Minister to adhere to the original schedule.
“It’s increasingly clear that the modellers are our masters now,” former minister Steve Baker said.
Conservative Marcus Fysh told the Sunday Telegraph: “I cannot see any reason to observe restrictions domestically and I have no intention of doing so. That goes for Parliament, too. There is no way that I’ll be doing any more social distancing or masks. Whatever they say the rules are, I will ignore them from June 21.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, has warned that a new coronavirus outbreak is expected later this year.
As the weather cooled and people spent more time indoors again, he admitted that Covid-19 cases might climb.
He told a video connection briefing for media at the G7 Summit, “We expect there to be increased pressure from coronavirus in the winter again.”
Sir Patrick remarked as Tory ministers expressed concern that Covid limitations in England could last until Spring 2022.
With experts predicting that Boris Johnson will push back the end of lockdown rules from June 21 to July 19, a senior minister cautioned that there would only be a “very short window to open up” before cases spiked again in September.
“I am very worried the people who want to keep us shut down now want to keep us shut down permanently and are aiming for ‘zero Covid’.” the minister told the Sunday Telegraph. “Once you start delaying to the spring, you’re making this type of control of people’s lives semi-permanent.”