Boris Johnson announces four-week delay to full exit from lockdown in England

Restrictions had been due to lift on June 21 but scientists are concerned about the spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson announces four-week delay to full exit from lockdown in England

LONDON — Boris Johnson announced a four-week delay to the end of lockdown in England as the Delta variant of coronavirus continues to spread rapidly through parts of the country.

The prime minister said “it is sensible to wait just a little longer” in a Downing Street press conference after returning from the NATO summit in Brussels.

“We cannot simply eliminate coronavirus, we must learn to live with it,” he added. “Even if the link between infection and hospitalization has been weakened, it has not been severed.”

“Now is the time to ease off the accelerator,” he said, to give time for the NHS to vaccinate more of the adult population.

Remaining public health restrictions were due to be lifted on June 21, but the government’s scientific advisers have raised concerns that further reopening would trigger a dangerous rise in hospitalizations. 

Johnson insisted he was “confident” there would be no further delays despite the first break with the government’s planned road map for full easing of the rules.

The government will also reduce the interval between vaccine doses for over 40s, amid concerns that a single jab does not provide sufficient protection.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96 percent effective against hospitalization after two doses, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers 92 percent protection, according to new analysis by Public Health England.

Data suggests the Delta variant — which was first detected in India — is between 40 percent and 80 percent more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus, and in a third of the country infections are doubling every week.

The prime minister decided on an exemption for weddings, which will not have a limit on the number of guests as long as indoor venues observe social distancing and offer table service.

There are currently no plans to revisit support for businesses, with the furlough scheme due to taper off before coming to an end in September.

Pilots involving large events will continue, the prime minister’s spokesman told journalists earlier, adding that attendance at the Euro 2020 football tournament would not be affected by the halt on complete reopening.

The government is expected to reexamine the data on July 5 and decide whether to go ahead with the full delay of four weeks or potentially extend it further.

Earlier, Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle issued a furious rebuke to Downing Street for holding a press conference on the changes without informing MPs of the changed plans to the reopening timetable first.

Hoyle accused No. 10 of “riding roughshod” over parliament in a way that was “totally unacceptable” and said he would be seeking a meeting with the prime minister.

Seventy-one percent of people support the extension of COVID measures, according to a snap poll by YouGov. 

However, Johnson is already facing a backlash from members of his own party who are demanding to know what level of vaccination in the general population will be considered safe. 

A parliamentary clash is being cued up for later week, when the government will have to seek MPs’ approval for extending the current rules which would otherwise expire on June 30.

The opposition Labour Party will back the extension, despite its leader Keir Starmer criticizing what he called the government’s “pathetic” border policy, which he said had contributed to the rise in infections.

This article has been updated.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Delta coronavirus variant doubles risk of hospitalization: Scottish study

The BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine provided 79 percent protection against infection from the Delta variant, compared with 92 percent against the Alpha variant.

Delta coronavirus variant doubles risk of hospitalization: Scottish study

The Delta coronavirus variant, first identified in India, carries about double the risk of hospitalization compared with the Alpha variant, first identified in the U.K., according to research from Scotland released today.

While vaccination is providing roughly 70 percent protection from hospitalization, it’s vital people receive their second dose, since protection shortly after the first dose is limited, the authors stressed.

The Delta variant has become dominant in Scotland since mid-May, and now accounts for around 75 percent of all positive cases, said Chris Robertson, professor of public health epidemiology at the University of Strathclyde, during a briefing. And more younger people are among those hospitalized.

The study is in line with Public Health England, which has said the Delta variant is more transmissible than Alpha and suggested it could cause more hospitalizations. But PHE has also called for more evidence.

The latest data comes ahead of the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement this evening on whether pandemic restrictions will be eased, with a delay most likely on the cards.

“The Delta variant does increase the risk of hospitalization,” said Jim McMenamin, COVID-19 National Incident Director for Public Health Scotland. “However, what we are able to see from the information available to us is that our vaccines are still highly effective.”

The BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine provided 79 percent protection against infection from the Delta variant, compared with 92 percent against the Alpha variant, at least two weeks after the second dose, the study found.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, meanwhile, offered 60 percent protection against the Delta variant compared with 73 percent for the Alpha variant.

The researchers, from Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland, said the different efficacy rates may reflect that is takes longer to develop immunity with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. But they also cautioned it’s not possible to directly compare the vaccines since they’ve been prioritized for different groups of people.

Across both vaccines, the data also showed a “worrying” slightly higher risk of hospitalization with the Delta variant than Alpha after two vaccine doses, noted Robertson.

The results from this analysis, published today as an externally peer-reviewed research letter in the Lancet, was based on community testing among 5.4 million people in Scotland from April 1 to June 6.  

“There is much work that needs to be done to substantiate the information,” cautioned McMenamin. “But a full understanding of what those will mean … can only follow if we are able to combine the analysis that’s been done in other parts of the U.K. or internationally.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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