The delay in lifting most current lockdown measures followed a rise in cases, driven by the more transmissible Delta variant, which was first identified in India. The Government is expected to win the vote on delaying the scheduled June 21 lockdown easing by four weeks, despite some Conservative MPs expressing concern over the plans. Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of backbench Conservative MPs, highlighted people deemed to be in the risk group had been offered the vaccine, so it was time for the Government to “let people make judgements about how to live their lives”.
Conservative backbencher, Marcus Fysh, also branded the plan a “disastrous and unacceptable policy”.
It comes as Mr Johnson announced on Monday that the last stage of easing lockdown restrictions in the country would be delayed, meaning pubs, clubs and theatres will still have to follow new rules on capacity limits and nightclubs will remain closed.
People will also still only be able to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors and up to six people or two households indoors.
Mr Johnson said the Government was “so concerned” by the Delta variant as it was “now spreading faster than the third wave predicted in the February roadmap”.
He said: “We’re seeing cases growing by about 64 percent 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 percent week on week, and by 61 percent in the North West, which may be the shape of things to come.
“Because we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth and even if the link between infection and hospitalisation has been weakened it has not been severed.”
The Prime Minister added the delay will aim to significantly reduce deaths by mid-July due to two-thirds of adults being offered both vaccine doses by then.
Labour leader Keir Starmer also lashed out at Mr Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions today as he repeatedly asked him to explain the UK’s high rates of the Delta variant.
The variant is believed to have entered the country after India was not added to the Government’s “red list” of countries on April 23, which meant people travelling from those countries would have to carry out a 10-day hotel quarantine.
Other countries at risk of the variant such as Pakistan and Bangladesh were added to the list earlier on April 9.
Sir Keir also suggested the amber travel list, which includes France and Spain, should be replaced by an approved list and a banned list of countries.
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Speaking in the House of Commons today, Sir Keir said: “We all want these restrictions to be over, for our economy to be open, for businesses to thrive – but the Prime Minister’s indecision at the borders has blown it.
“And the problem with everything the Prime Minister says today, both at the despatch box and what he’s muttered, is that we’ve heard it all before so many times.
“Last March, he said we could turn the tide in 12 weeks, remember that? Then he said it’d all be over by Christmas. Then we were told June 21 would be ‘freedom day’. Now we’re told July 19 is ‘terminus day’.
“The British people don’t expect miracles, but they do expect basic competence and honesty, and when it comes to care homes, protective equipment or borders, we see the same pattern from this Prime Minister – too slow, too indecisive, over-promising, under-delivering.
“After all these failures and mistakes, why should anyone believe the Prime Minister now?”
But Mr Johnson replied: “Why should anybody believe the Leader of the Opposition when he can’t decide what he thinks one week to the next?
“He says he has a tough position on borders, actually he was attacking quarantine only recently and saying it was a blunt instrument that should be lessened.
“What the people of this country want to see is a Government getting on with the vaccine rollout and getting on with our cautious and irreversible road map to freedom.”
There were signs earlier this week that the rise in cases may be levelling out after 7,673 more cases were reported yesterday.
This showed the seven-day average had increased by three per cent yesterday.
This was compared with eight percent on Tuesday last week.