Britain set to delay full lifting of virus restrictions
People play bingo inside the re-opened Club 3000 bingo hall in Manchester, northern England as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease across the country on May 17, 2021. (Oli SCARFF / AFP)
(AFP) - Britain was on Monday widely expected to delay the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions due to a surge of infections caused by the Delta variant.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce the government's next step of its roadmap out of stay-at-home measures, after easing began in March.
He is expected to announce a delay at a news conference on Monday evening, as media reported that senior ministers had agreed to postponing the lifting.
The BBC reported that most current rules will stay in place until July 19.
Last week Johnson gave his strongest hint yet that the final stage -- lifting all social distancing requirements on June 21 -- could be put on hold.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for over 90 percent of cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
The postponement comes as reported cases are at their highest since February.
Public Health England said the Delta variant is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in southeast England.
That forced the country to go into the last lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low as more than 40 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
In comments to Sky News on Saturday, Johnson acknowledged that the spread of the virus was a matter of "serious, serious concern".
The Times reported Monday that Johnson and senior ministers agreed a four-week delay after a briefing by scientific and health advisers.
The government is also keen to buy more time to vaccinate younger adults and possibly children.
Newspapers hinted at dissent within Johnson's cabinet over the delay. The Times cited an unnamed minister as saying it was "a very odd decision".
The restrictions apply to England only, as health policy is a devolved matter for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they set their own policy.
England currently does not allow outside gatherings of more than 30 people or for more than two households to meet inside.
The government had hoped to allow reopening of nightclubs and "stand-up" drinking in pubs as well as lifting a limit of 30 guests at weddings.
Businesses hard hit by the restrictions say their livelihoods depend on them being lifted.
The Daily Telegraph reported the limit on permitted wedding guests would be "relaxed".
Scotland was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was set to give a statement to parliament on Tuesday.
© Agence France-Presse