Freedom Day in the UK has been pushed back from June 21 to July 19 because of the rapid spread of the Delta variant, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday night in a live broadcast from 10 Downing Street.
He said: “We’ve obviously faced a very difficult choice. We can simply keep going with all of step four (and lifting all restrictions) on June 21st even though there is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines and that thousands more deaths would ensue that could otherwise have been avoided.
“Or else we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jobs into the arms of those who need them. And since today I cannot say that we have met all our four tests for proceeding with step four on June 21st I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”
He sketched out some of the background: “Thanks to the enormous efforts of the British people in the spectacular vaccine rollout, we now have one of the most open economies and societies in Europe.
“And as we’ve always known, and as the February roadmap explicitly predicted, this opening up over the last three steps has inevitably been accompanied by more infection, and more hospitalisation because we must be clear that we cannot simply eliminate Covid — we must learn to live with it.
“And with every day that goes by, we are better protected by the vaccines, and we are better able to live with the disease.”
There is now, in fact, a deadly race between the virus and the vaccine.
Boris pointed out: “Vaccination greatly reduces transmission, and two doses provide a very high degree of protection against serious illness and death.
“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’s why we’re so concerned by the Delta variant which is now spreading faster than the third wave that was predicted in the February roadmap.
“We’re seeing cases growing by about 64 per cent per week. And in the worst affected areas, it’s doubling every week. And 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 north-west, which may be the shape of things to come – because we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth.”
He also explained: “And even if the link between infection and hospitalisation has been weakened, it hasn’t been severed. But even if the link between hospitalisation and death has also been weakened, I’m afraid numbers in intensive care in ICU are also rising.”
He set out his solution which will be analysed especially carefully in India: “By Monday the 19th of July, we will aim to have double jabbed around two-thirds of the adult population, including everyone over 50 or the vulnerable, all frontline health and care workers and everyone over 40, who received their first dose by mid-May.
“And to do this, we will now accelerate the second jobs for those that were 40 just as we did for the vulnerable groups. So they get the maximum protection as fast as possible. And we will bring forward our target to give every adult in this country a first dose by the 19th of July. That is including young people over the age of 18 with 23 and 24 year olds invited to book jobs from tomorrow. So we reduce the risk of transmission among the groups…and give the NHS that extra time.”
He added: “We will continue to pilot events such as Euro 2021 and some theatrical performances. We will monitor the position every day. If after two weeks we concluded that the risk has diminished, then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four and a full opening soon. As things stand I am confident we will not need more than four weeks and we won’t need to go beyond July 19th.
“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. But 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. And once the adults have been overwhelmingly vaccinated, which is what we can achieve in a short space of time, we will be in a far stronger position to keep hospitalisations down, to live with this disease, and to complete our cautious, but irreversible roadmap to freedom.”
Latest figures show there were 7,742 new infections reported on Monday, up from 5,683 this time last week. 90 per cent are the Delta variant.
A total of 71,672,208 Covid vaccinations have been given in the UK, according to the government’s daily figures. That’s 41,698,429 first doses and 29,973,779 second doses.
In England, 39,061 cases of the Delta variant have now been confirmed, with 2,035 in Scotland, 184 in Wales and 43 in Northern Ireland. Of those, 42 Britons have died from the Delta variant. And the PHE report shows that of those 42 people to have died, 12 were fully vaccinated.