Johnson delays plans to loosen restrictions amid Delta variant concerns

Covid cases doubling week by week in worst-hit areas, and ICU numbers on the rise

Boris Johnson has delayed the lifting of remaining coronavirus restrictions in England amid concerns about the spread of the Delta variant first identified in India. He said postponing until July 19th the reopening scheduled for June 21st would give the National Health Service time to deliver second vaccination doses to more adults.

“Vaccination greatly reduces transmission, and two doses provide a very high degree of protection against serious illness and death,” he told a press conference in Downing Street. “But there are still millions of younger adults who have not been vaccinated and sadly a proportion of the elderly and vulnerable may still succumb even if they have had two jabs. And that is why we are so concerned by the Delta variant.”

He said cases were growing by about 64 per cent per week, and in the worst affected areas they were doubling every week. The average number of people being admitted to hospital in England has increased by 50 per cent week on week, and by 61 per cent in the northwest of the country.

“Because we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth, and even if the link between infection and hospitalisation has been weakened it has not been severed,” he said. “And even if the link between hospitalisation and death has also been weakened, I’m afraid numbers in intensive care ... are also rising. And so we have faced a very difficult choice.”


Mr Johnson said that by July 19th, everyone over 18 will have been offered a first vaccine dose and two-thirds of adults will have been offered a second dose.

Vaccine effectiveness

The announcement came as Public Health England released new data showing that two doses of coronavirus vaccines are highly effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant. The analysis of more than 14,000 cases of the variant found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 96 per cent effective against hospitalisation after two doses, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was 92 per cent effective against hospitalisation after two doses.

Monday’s decision means that capacity limits will remain in place for sporting events, bars and cinemas and nightclubs will remain closed. The limit of 30 guests at weddings will be removed from June 21st but social-distancing rules will remain in place, so no dance floors will be allowed in indoor venues.

The delay means Mr Johnson will have to win parliamentary approval for the extension of restrictions beyond the end of June. Some Conservative backbenchers have expressed unhappiness with the postponement of further reopening, but Labour has made clear it will support the delay.

House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle condemned as “totally unacceptable” the prime minister’s decision to announce the delay at a press conference rather than in parliament.

“This house needs to know, it needs to know first. I find it totally unacceptable that once again, once again, that we see Downing Street running roughshod over members of parliament,” he said. “We’re not accepting it and I’m at the stage where I’m beginning to look for other avenues if they’re not going to treat this House seriously. But I will say I think it’s time for me to have a meeting with the prime minister to actually put on the record here now but with him that this House matters.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times