Covid: PM confirms England coronavirus lockdown easing will be delayed by four weeks to July 19

The prime minister's delay has wide ramifications for the fight against the virus

Most Covid-19 restrictions in England will remain in place for another four weeks, delaying the planned June 21 unlocking until July 19, Boris Johnson has announced.

However, the limit of 30 people at weddings and wakes will be lifted, with capacity instead dictated by the number of people a venue can hold while maintaining social distancing.

Despite the delay having a significant impact on business, the government has confirmed it will not heed calls from industry to further extend furlough and other financial support.

The link between hospitalisation and cases has been "weakened" but not "severed", Mr Johnson said announcing the delay.

He added there was a possibility "thousands more deaths" would come from continuing with step four and that it was "sensible to wait just a little longer".

"I am confident we will not need any more than 4 weeks and we won’t need to go beyond July 19th," Mr Johnson said.

How will the delay affect businesses that were read to open on June 21?

He hopes deaths will be significantly reduced by that point because two-thirds of adults will have then been offered both vaccine doses due to the delay.

The gap between first and second doses of the vaccine will also be shortened from twelve to eight weeks for those over the age of 40 and the government aim to offer a jab for those over 18 before July 19.

Mr Johnson announced he would bring forward the target to give every adult a first dose by July 19th and said 23 and 24 year olds would be able to book vaccines from Tuesday.

Data shows that while two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines almost as effective against the Delta variant as against the Alpha one (the variant first identified in Kent), one dose of either only provides 33% efficacy.

Revealing the planned delay in the Commons Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that “the race” between the vaccines and coronavirus “isn’t over yet”.He said: “At every stage at the road map we’ve taken the time to check it’s safe to take the next step.

“Our task is to make sure the vaccine can get ahead in the race between the vaccine and the virus.”

Mr Hancock made the announcement in the Commons after Mr Johnson revealed all of the details of the delay at his press conference, which angered Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Sir Lindsay said it was “entirely unacceptable” behaviour on making the road map announcement to the House of Commons after a press conference, warning the prime minister "you are on my watch.”

When will we be able to freely travel abroad again?

He said Mr Johnson “must now lead the top and follow the guidance” in the ministerial code, which states major announcements should be made first in Parliament.

The Speaker added: “I will be pursuing this matter with him. I do not find it acceptable at all – members of this House are elected to come here to serve their constituents, not to serve them via Sky or BBC."

The delay means limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas will remain in place, nightclubs will stay shuttered and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible.

Downing Street left open the option of ending restrictions on July 5 if the data proves drastically better than expected but conceded this is “unlikely”.

Mr Johnson did, however, announce a limited easing of restrictions to take place from June 21 as he faces the prospect of a rebellion from Conservative MPs who are furious about the delay.

Listen to our politics podcast, Calling Peston

The 30-person cap for wedding ceremonies and receptions, as well as wakes, will be lifted, with limits to be set by venues based on social distancing requirements.

Care home residents will also no longer need to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving for visits in most cases.

Fans were expected to be able to attend the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final in Wembley as the pilots on attendance of large events continue.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s unmistakably clear that vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves.

What is still changing on June 21?

“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.”

Mr Johnson felt he had to delay the relaxation after at least one of his four tests to easing restrictions – that the risks are not fundamentally changed by new variants – had been failed.

Why has the lockdown easing been delayed? 

The rise of the Delta variant, which now makes up over 90% of new cases in the UK, has led to the government failing at least one of its four tests for the last stage of the unlocking.

The variant is between 40 and 80% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which originated in Kent, meaning it can spread much more quickly than previous strains of the virus. 

Cases are at their highest level since February with a 70% growth week on week and one third of the country doubling in cases each week. 

Hospital admissions have also been up 15% week on week and have increased by 61% in the North West. 

It is believed that, had the government continued with the fourth step of lockdown easing on June 21, there was the possibility hospitalisations could reach a peak seen in the first wave in March. 

The government’s plan is to use this four week delay to get more people fully vaccinated, thereby reducing the impact of the variant.

Cases will continue to rise, they believe, but they hope the increased number of vaccinations will further break the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.

As of yet, there is suggestion of reimposing or moving back down through the roadmap. 

Officials also called into question the test to ensure infection rates do not lead to a surge in hospital admissions that could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

Modelling by the Government’s Spi-M group suggested there was a possibility of hospital admissions reaching the heights of the first peak in March 2020 if the relaxation went ahead on Monday.

The delay to June 21 follows warnings from scientists that the rapid spread of the Delta Covid-19 variant first identified in India risks a “substantial” third wave if it is allowed to spread unchecked.

What was supposed to change from June 21 in England?

  • All legal limits on social gatherings, indoors and outdoors, removed.

  • Remaining shut premises, including nightclubs, to reopen

  • Relaxing of limits for large events

  • But social distancing, hand washing and ventilation practices to continue

The delay comes as a huge setback to many businesses – particularly in the struggling hospitality sector – which had pinned its hopes on a full summer reopening to recoup some of the losses of the past year.

Furlough support currently allows businesses impacted by the pandemic the ability to keep workers on with an 80% wage subsidy from the state.

This is due to taper off from the end of this month, moving to a 70% state subsidy supported by a 10% employer contribution in July, tapering further before ending completely in September.

It is understood that the Government’s original decision to taper support until the autumn was due to potential uncertainty regarding the schedule of the road map.

3000 revellers took part in a pilot event in Liverpool in April. Credit: PA

Hard-hit hospitality, leisure and retail firms have also benefited significantly from the current business rates holiday and ban on commercial evictions, which will also alter in the coming weeks.

These firms will pay no business rates until the end of this month, with this changing to a 67% discount with a £2 million cap until the end of the financial year.

Pilots of large events will continue under the delayed plans, including some Euro 2020 matches. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, commercial property evictions have been banned until the end of June and landlords will have the potential to take tenants to court again from next month for not paying rents despite some still being impacted by restrictions.

Sector leaders and trade groups had called for these support measures to be extended until all pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Listen to our Covid podcast, Coronavirus: What You Need To Know