U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he believes England’s lockdown can end in mid-July, but “extra precautions” will be needed until then because of increasing infections caused by the coronavirus’s Delta variant.
Johnson addressed the U.K.’s rising virus cases on Thursday, when 27,989 new cases were reported, the highest number of infections since the end of January. Still, Johnson said, he is hopeful life will return “as close to it was before COVID.”
“But there may be some things we have to do, extra precautions that we have to take, but I’ll be setting them out,” he added. Social distancing restrictions will end on July 19, after originally being set to lift four weeks earlier.
“It looks ever clearer that the vaccination program, the speed of that vaccine rollout, has broken that link between infection and mortality,” Johnson said. “That gives us the scope, we think, on the 19th to go ahead.”
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Johnson said the unspecified extra precautions to contain the spread of the pandemic will be needed in the coming weeks, as infections in the U.K. have risen sharply recently.
During a visit to the Nissan car plant in the north England city of Sunderland, Johnson said he is planning to reveal details of what the end of lockdown restrictions will look like in the coming days.
Johnson said he is hopeful of a return to normalcy given the evidence showing vaccines are reducing deaths despite rising infections involving the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
The big increase in positive cases in the U.K. has stoked concerns that the government will not be able to push through with its next easing of lockdown restrictions that will see legal limits on people gathering both at home and outside ditched. It’s unclear what will happen to other rules on mask-wearing and working from home, or how so-called vaccine passports may be used to access venues.
Last month, Johnson delayed the next planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions as a result of the spread of the delta variant and so millions more people get fully vaccinated against the virus.
Since then, cases have risen sharply, by 72 percent over the past seven days.
The hope is that the link between infections and those needing hospitalization and subsequently dying has broken because of the rapid rollout of vaccines. As of Thursday, 67 percent of the U.K. population has received at least one vaccine dose, while 49 percent have had two.
Recent analysis from Public Health England showed that two doses of the main vaccines the U.K. is using are highly effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant—96 percent in the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 92 percent for the AstraZeneca jab.
Though the numbers of people in hospitals and dying have been edging up over the past couple of weeks, they haven’t risen at the same rate as infections. On Thursday, the government said another 259 people have been hospitalized, taking the total to 1,795, nowhere near the 40,000 levels recorded earlier in the year during the peak of a second surge. The daily virus-related death figures also remained relatively low at 22, taking the death total to 128,162.
The other parts of the U.K.—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—are following similar plans to those in England.