U.K. COVID Restrictions Extended Till July 19 to Allow for More Vaccinations

The U.K.'s COVID-19 restrictions have been extended by four weeks until July 19 to allow for more citizens to get vaccinated, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday.

The delay is also due to the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant, which was first discovered in India and has caused over 90 percent of the U.K.'s infections. Restrictions on social gatherings and contact were originally set to be lifted June 21.

"I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer," Johnson said during a press briefing. "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."

He said two-thirds of Britain's citizens will have received their two vaccine shots by July 19. The British government announced 7,742 new coronavirus cases on Monday.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14. Johnson announced Monday that the U.K.'s COVID-19 restrictions will be extended until July 19 to allow for more vaccinations. Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

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Johnson voiced his confidence that he won't need to delay the plan to lift restrictions on social contact further, as millions more people get fully vaccinated against the virus.

Accompanying the decision to delay the easing, Johnson said the government has brought forward the date by which everyone over the age of 18 will be offered a first dose of vaccine, from the end of July to July 19.

"It's unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine rollout has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves," he said.

Under the government's plan for coming out of lockdown, all restrictions on social contact were set to be lifted next Monday. Many businesses, particularly those in hospitality and entertainment, voiced their disappointment ahead of the official announcement.

The Delta variant first found in India is estimated by scientists advising the government to be between 40 percent and 80 percent more transmissible than the previous dominant strain.

When Johnson first outlined the government's four-stage plan for lifting the lockdown in England in February, he set June 21 as the earliest date by which restrictions on people gathering would be lifted. However, he stressed at the time that the timetable was not carved in stone and that all the steps would be driven by "data not dates" and would seek to be "irreversible."

The speed at which new coronavirus infections have been rising had piled the pressure on Johnson to delay the reopening so more people can get vaccinated.

Monday's reported new coronavirus cases are the highest daily numbers since the end of February. Daily infections have increased threefold over the past few weeks but are still way down from the nearly 70,000 daily cases recorded in January.

Many blame the Conservative government for the spike in infections, saying it acted too slowly to impose the strictest quarantine requirements on everyone arriving from India, which has endured a catastrophic resurgence of the virus.

Across Europe, many countries, including France, have tightened restrictions for British travelers to prevent the Delta variant from spreading. Others, like Spain, are allowing British tourists to arrive without being required to take a test if they have been fully vaccinated.

Despite concerns about the Delta variant, the U.K.'s vaccine rollout has won plaudits as one of the world's speediest and most coherent. As of Monday, around 62 percent of the British population had received one shot, while about 45 percent had got two jabs.

The rapid rollout of vaccines and a strict months-long lockdown helped drive down the number of virus-related deaths in the U.K. in recent months. Despite that, the country has recorded nearly 128,000 virus-related deaths, more than any other nation in Europe.

Waiter Wears a Mask in London
A waiter wears a face mask as people eat and drink outside restaurants in London's Soho district on November 4, 2020. Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo