Boris Johnson tonight dramatically delayed ‘Freedom Day’ by another four weeks to prevent up to 500 deaths a day after scientists warned the Indian variant could be 80 per cent more infectious.
Giving the bad news at a Downing Street briefing, the PM defied fury from Tory MPs and the hospitality industry to insisted he cannot press ahead until more people are double-jabbed.
He said the disease cannot be ‘eliminated’ and the country will have to learn to ‘live with it’. But he said he needed to ‘give the NHS a few more crucial weeks’.
‘I think it is sensible to wait a little longer,’ he said. ‘Now is the time to ease off the accelerator.’ However, Mr Johnson added that he viewed the new date as a ‘terminal point’ for lockdown, with all restrictions able to be lifted for good.
The shift came after Government experts told the premier that the Indian – or Delta strain – is far more transmissible than the Kent version, while single doses of vaccines are thought to be less effective in countering it. Allowing the relaxation in England could put millions of people who have yet to have a jab at risk, as well as those who have only had one dose and elderly people who remain vulnerable.
Chief medic Chris Whitty, flanking the PM as usual alongside Sir Patrick Vallance, told the briefing that hospitalisations had risen 61 per cent in the North West in just a week. ‘The assessment of risk has fundamentally shifted,’ he said.
The move means that current rules will essentially remain in place until July 19 – with social distancing in force in bars and restaurants, and the edict to work from home where possible staying.