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England's full reopening delayed by four weeks

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-06-15 09:23

Fast spread of novel coronavirus delta variant has put lockdown end on hold

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference regarding England's COVID-19 lockdown easing delay in London, Britain, June 14, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed at a news conference on Monday evening that the proposed date for England to finally come out of novel coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures, scheduled for June 21, was being put back by four weeks.

The decision comes after weeks of growing concern about the feasibility of the so-called roadmap out of lockdown, unveiled on Feb 22.

At the time, Johnson called it a "one-way road to freedom", with milestones along the way of certain conditions needing to be met and the partial lifting of limitations, culminating in June 21 as the day when measures such as social distancing and the wearing of masks could finally be ditched.

The plan, he said, was "cautious but irreversible" and at all times, he insisted, decision-making would be led by "data not dates". One date that was fixed in the proposal was June 14 as the day when a final decision would be made on what would happen on June 21, and despite the widespread success of the rollout of the vaccination program, it is felt that the time is not yet right, and the date has now been switched to July 19.

A cabinet meeting took place before a formal announcement on Monday evening, and Sky News quoted a senior source in attendance as calling for "one last heave… it is a straight race between the vaccine and the virus".

The main reason for progress having been hamstrung is the extent of the spread of the delta variant of the virus, which was initially identified in India, a country that has suffered massively because of the pandemic.

That variant is now responsible for more than 90 percent of cases in England, and according to Public Health England, it is as much as 64 percent more transmissible than the so-called alpha variant, first identified in England.

Despite the high-profile nature of the outbreak in India, the country was only added to the United Kingdom red list of countries facing travel restrictions on April 23, two weeks after neighbors Bangladesh and Pakistan were put on the list.

As late as April 19, Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to India at a week's notice, on the same day that the Guardian reported more than 273,000 new cases of the virus had been logged in India.

In February, the government published a joint document with the Indian government, announcing an enhanced trade partnership, as part of efforts to secure a new trade deal, and critics say Johnson's determination to speed up progress toward such a big post-Brexit trade prize may have influenced the decision to allow travel between the two countries to continue for so long.

Speaking on Sky News, health minister Edward Argar said: "I know that weddings and people in that situation will be very much in his (the PM's) mind at the moment and it's one of the things he's been looking at carefully," he said.

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