LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed his plans to lift lockdown restrictions on Covid-19 for a month on Monday, warning that the more infectious Delta variant meant that if he did nothing, admissions to the hospital could reach the peak of the first wave of the pandemic.
As part of the latest step in a plan presented by Johnson in February, he had hoped to lift most social restrictions on June 21, meaning pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and other hospitality venues could reopen completely.
This eagerly awaited stage has been postponed to July 19.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
“I think it makes sense to wait a little longer,” Johnson said at a press conference. “As it stands, and on the evidence I can see right now. I’m confident we won’t need more than four weeks.”
The extra time would be used to speed up Britain’s vaccination program – already one of the most advanced in the world – by shortening the recommended time between doses for people over 40 to eight weeks from 12 weeks.
The situation would be revisited on June 28, which could allow the reopening to be moved forward, although Johnson’s spokesman said this was considered unlikely.
In recent weeks, there has been a rapid growth in new cases caused by the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India. Health officials believe it is 60% more transmissible than the previous dominant strain and scientists have warned it could trigger a third wave of infections.
Britain recorded 7,742 new cases of Covid-19 and 3 deaths on Monday. Johnson said Britain is seeing the number of cases increase by around 64% per week and the number of people in intensive care in hospital is increasing.