By Michael Jarvis, London UK
Lockdown restrictions in England due to be lifted on June 21st have been extended for a further four weeks until July 19th.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the expected delay during a press conference on Monday evening (UK time) at his 10 Downing Street office.
“I cannot say that we have met all our four tests for proceeding with Step 4 on 21st June,” the Prime Minister said, adding that, “I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”
The delay is due to the continuing rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant (previously Indian variant) of the COVID-19 virus in England.
This strain said to be the most contagious to date is 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent/UK variant which has now been designated the Alpha variant by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Mr Johnson said the additional period would allow for further ramping up of the UK’s vaccination campaign with first jabs now being offered to people 18 years and older, alongside stepping up the rate at which second doses are administered.
He said the aim is to have two-thirds of the adult population in England fully vaccinated by July 19th which he indicated would be the final extension “based on currently available data”.
The hope is that by July 19th there will be “a very considerable wall of immunity around the whole of the population", Mr Johnson said. “We have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”
When pressed on how firm that target date was, Prime Minister Johnson responded:
"We will monitor the position every day and if, after two weeks, we have concluded that the risk has diminished then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four, and a full opening, sooner."
The Delta variant now accounts for more than 90% of new COVID-19 infections in England and cases have been increasing by around 64% weekly.