Boris Johnson delays easing of England lockdown by four weeks

Boris Johnson has rejected calls from businesses for additional financial support despite announcing a four-week delay for the eventual easing of lockdown restrictions in England.

Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, the British prime minister said “now is the time to ease the accelerator” and said a cautious approach could “save thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more”.

The move to ‘Step 4’ of the government’s easing plan has been delayed due to the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in India. Nightclubs will remain closed, along with the work-from-home order, and internal social distancing restrictions will remain for another four weeks.

Over the next month, the NHS intends to provide two doses of Covid-19 vaccines to two-thirds of the adult population in England, including all people over the age of 40. All adults will be given one injection before dilution.

Although Johnson described July 19, when all restrictions were now due to expire, as a “final date”, he did not rule out any further delay if data indicated that health services could be overwhelmed.

“I’m confident we won’t need more than four weeks and we won’t need to go past 19 July. It’s unequivocally clear that vaccines are working and the sheer scale of their release has made our position immeasurably better than previous methods,” he said.

On Monday, 7,742 more cases of coronavirus and three more deaths were reported. The prime minister said intensive care cases were on the rise and Covid-19 infections were increasing by 64 per cent across the country week on week.

Some senior ministers have expressed their own dissatisfaction with the delay, while a large number of back-seat Conservative MPs could revolt against the latest delay, pointing to the success of the UK’s rapid vaccination programme.

Businesses have warned of the “devastating” impact of an extension without further government support, even though Johnson’s government has already spent £407 billion on supporting businesses during the crisis.

The Small Business Federation has called on ministers to delay winding down the vacation scheme – which provides 80 per cent of the usual salary. It also urged the government to cancel refunds for businesses that remain closed and to fully extend business price relief to businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure.

“Businesses have spent thousands ordering food and drink, selling tickets and marketing events in preparation for this date, while restaurants and bars have been counting on full openness to start making up more than a year of lost revenue,” said Craig Beaumont, president of Craig Beaumont. Foreign Affairs of the FSB.

Hospitality leaders said a month-long delay would cost the sector £3 billion in sales losses. UKH Hospitality, the trade body for the industry, said “any further delay” would put 300,000 jobs at risk.

Johnson ruled out any change to the furlough scheme or business support. We’ve always made sure to keep the vacation scheme going until September to take into account the full rollout of the roadmap. The chancellor has always been very clear about that, he said. “Based on what we can see now in the data, based on the effectiveness of the vaccine, we don’t think we’ll need to change that.”

Many companies now have to rethink their plans to allow workers to return to offices after the government said it would continue to require people to work from home where possible.

KPMG said the “four-day, two-week” mixed work plan was due to run from June 21, but that any delay “will be reflected in our approach, and we will begin our plans when it is safe to do so.”

The Treasury Department is resisting pressure to provide new business support to help businesses affected by the new delay. The government announced in the spring that it would not withdraw the vacation scheme entirely until the end of September.

This is still generous compared to other countries including France, where companies now have to pay 25 per cent of the wages of those receiving state subsidies, a senior government figure said.

The official added that the government had introduced a £2 billion scheme specifically for councils to distribute money to companies in hard-pressed sectors still struggling – and half of that had yet to be spent.

The UK is still considering a partial extension of the rent moratorium this week, which should provide the retail and hospitality sectors some help as landlords owe up to £6 billion in rents from tenants who have been shut down during the pandemic.

But the prime minister made some concessions. The cap on those attending weddings will be lifted from June 21 both indoors and outdoors, but social distancing will be required, along with masks and no dance floors.

Medical and scientific advisors believe that the delta strain is 40 to 80 percent more transmissible than the previously dominant alpha variant first identified in Kent. The new delta variant is growing 70 per cent week by week across the UK.

But new data from Public Health England highlights the efficacy of the two vaccines currently in use in the UK against the delta variant. The analysis suggested that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is 96 percent effective against hospitalization, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92 percent effective.

Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunization, emphasized that the vaccines provide “significant protection” against the Delta strain. “It is absolutely essential to have both doses as soon as they are given to you, for maximum protection against all current and emerging variants,” she said.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, blamed Johnson for failing to announce the changes to Parliament first, accusing the government of acting misleadingly.

“I find it completely unacceptable to see again, again, Downing Street beat MPs,” he said.

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