U.K. Delays End of Lockdown Amid Spread of Delta COVID Variant

Pedestrians walk past a COVID warning sign in West London on June 1. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Following the rise of the dangerous Delta coronavirus variant in the U.K., British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed back the easing of COVID restrictions in the country by a month on Monday to allow more people to get vaccinated. Current restrictions will now remain in place until July 19 at the earliest.

“Now is the time to ease off the accelerator,” Johnson said in a press conference. Under the government’s original roadmap for coming out of lockdown, June 21st was set to be the date — dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ — when all social restrictions would be lifted. But as Mark Woolhouse, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, explained in response to Monday’s news, the arrival of the delta variant, which now accounts for more than 90 percent of infections in the UK, “has changed the assessment of the risks of reopening: it is more transmissible, causes more severe disease and the vaccines are less effective against it.”

Johnson’s announcement comes as Britain recorded 7,742 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths on Monday. The prime minister added that the country was seeing cases growing by about 64 percent a week, and in the worst affected areas the number of cases was “doubling week on week.

Johnson insisted he was “confident” there would be no further delays: “By being cautious now, we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions of people,” adding that by July 19, two-thirds of the British population will have been fully vaccinated.

U.K. Delays End of Lockdown Amid Rise of Delta COVID Variant