England expected to confirm lockdown lifting despite fears over delta surge

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm on Monday that the final easing of lockdown rules in England will go ahead of July 19.

The move comes despite a continuing surge in coronavirus cases caused by the more infectious delta variant; over 31,000 new cases were reported in the U.K. on Sunday.

Johnson is expected to urge caution amid the country’s reopening, however, and stress that some public some measures, like mask-wearing, are a matter of personal responsibility and sensible decision-making. Johnson has previously said that Covid should become “a virus that we learn to live with,” like flu.

In comments released Monday morning by the government, Johnson said: “We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning.”

“While the phenomenal vaccine rollout has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet.”

Johnson said Covid cases will rise as the country unlocks, “so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital.”

“Freedom Day” — or Step 4 in the government’s long-term plan to ease restrictions — was moved to July 19 having previously been scheduled for June 21.

The government has said “four tests” for easing Covid restrictions have to be met before the easing can go ahead, including looking at data to confirm that the vaccine rollout is continuing successfully and that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalizations.

The latest data will be presented on Monday, “with current modelling suggesting that Covid cases will continue to rise as restrictions are eased,” the government said in a statement Monday.

“Hospitalisations, serious illness and deaths will also continue, albeit at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme,” it continued.

The delay in easing restrictions came as the delta Covid variant, originally discovered in India, spread throughout the country. While infection rates have risen, hospitalizations and deaths have not surged (although there has been a slight rise in these latter two sets of data) indicating that coronavirus vaccines are working to prevent severe infections.

Analysis suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalization after two doses.

Britain’s Covid immunization program has been one of the fastest in the world with 87.1% of the adult population now having received a first dose of a vaccine, and 66% having received two doses, government data shows.

The government said Monday that the vaccination rollout will continue to accelerate by bringing forward second doses for under 40s to eight weeks.

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