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UK lockdown extended: Reopenings delayed for 'at least a fortnight' amid increase in Covid-19 infections

Many businesses and events were due to reopen and return on August 1

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‘Don’t lose focus’: Britain’s PM Boris Johnson visits police in Northallerton in the north of England. PHOTO: REUTERS

‘Don’t lose focus’: Britain’s PM Boris Johnson visits police in Northallerton in the north of England. PHOTO: REUTERS

REUTERS

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street ((Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street ((Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

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‘Don’t lose focus’: Britain’s PM Boris Johnson visits police in Northallerton in the north of England. PHOTO: REUTERS

The reopening of businesses and staging of events planned for August 1 in the UK have been postponed for at least two weeks in the wake of the R number rising.

The UK Prime Minister has said that despite progress being made in combating Covid-19, the UK cannot think it is exempt from a rise in cases.

At a press conference on Friday, Boris Johnson said: “I’ve also consistently warned that this virus could come back and that we would not hesitate to take swift and decisive action as required.

“I’m afraid that in parts of Asia and in Latin America, the virus is gathering pace and some of our European friends are also struggling to keep it under control.

“As we see these rises around the world, we can’t fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble.”

Face coverings are to be mandatory in indoor settings where people are likely to come into contact with people they do not know, such as museums and places of worship, from August 8, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

He said planned reopenings for August 1 will be postponed for a fortnight.

He told a Downing Street briefing: “With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should squeeze that brake pedal… in order to keep the virus under control.

“On Saturday August 1, you’ll remember we had hoped to reopen a number of the higher-risk settings that had remained closed and today I’m saying we’re postponing those changes for at least a fortnight.

“That means until August 15 at the earliest casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and the remaining close-contact services must remain closed.

“Indoor performances will not resume, pilots of larger gatherings in sports venues and conference centres will not take place, and wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted.”

Boris Johnson said: “I know that the steps we are taking will be a real blow to many people, to everyone whose wedding plans have been disrupted or who cannot now celebrate Eid in the way that they would wish.

“And I’m really, really sorry about that but we cannot simply take the risk.”

Boris Johnson said the UK cannot afford to be complacent.

He said: “We cannot be complacent and I won’t stand by and allow this virus to threaten to cause more pain and more heartache in our country.

“So that’s why last night the Health Secretary (Matt Hancock) announced new restrictions on household contact in the north west, specifically Greater Manchester and in parts of East Lancashire and in West Yorkshire.

“These are targeted measures on social contact between households which the data tells us is driving the current increase in cases.”

There has been an increase in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in England, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says.

According to the ONS, between July 20 and 26 there were around 0.78 new Covid-19 infections for every 10,000 people in the community population in England.

This is equal to around 4,200 new cases per day.

This is up from an estimated 2,800 new cases a day in the previous week.

Boris Johnson said he understood that the latest announcement would be a “real blow” to people who had wedding plans or those who can no longer celebrate Eid in the ways they would wish.

“I’m really, really sorry about that, but we simply cannot take the risk. We will of course study the data carefully and move forward with our intention to open up as soon as we possibly can.

“Two weeks ago I also said that from tomorrow the Government would give employers more discretion over how employees can work safely, whether by continuing to work from home, or attending a Covid-secure workplace.

“And we know that employers have gone to huge lengths to make workplaces safe so that guidance remains unchanged.

“I also said that we would pause shielding nationally from August 1, based on clinical advice and that national pause will proceed as planned, and our medical experts will be explaining more about that decision and about the shielded group later today,” he added.

The growth rate and R value of coronavirus transmission in the UK has changed slightly in the last week, new figures published by the Government show.

Data released on Friday revealed the growth rate is now between minus 4% to minus 1%, compared with a rate of minus 5% to minus 1% per day, last week.

The R value for the UK is between 0.8 to 0.9, a slight change from 0.7 to 0.9.

The figures are published by the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

A growth rate between minus 1% to minus 4% means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1% to 4% every day, the report said.

It added: “However, we are starting to see early indications that these values may be increasing.

“This is not yet reflected in these estimates because the data used to calculate R and growth rate reflect the situation from a few weeks ago.”

The Prime Minister said: “Most people in this country are following the rules and doing their best to control the virus.

“But we must keep our discipline and our focus and we cannot be complacent.

“I have asked the Home Secretary to work with the police and others to ensure the rules which are already in place are properly enforced.

“That means local authorities acting to close down premises and cancelled events which are not following Covid-secure guidance.

“And, it means a greater police presence to ensure face coverings are being worn where this is required.”

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that the UK has potentially reached a limit for how much of society can be opened up.

He said: “I think what we’re seeing from the data from ONS and other data is that we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society.

“So what that means potentially is that if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.

“And these will be difficult trade-offs, some of which will be decisions for government and some of which are for all of us as citizens to do.

“But we have to be realistic about this. The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.”

Mr Johnson said: “We will also extend the requirement to wear a face covering to other indoor settings where you are likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet, such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.

“We now recommend face coverings are worn in these settings, and this will become enforceable in law from August 8.

“At this stage, we are not changing the rules on social contact nationally. I don’t want to tell people to spend less time with their friends. But unless people follow the rules and behave safely, we may need to go further.

“Two weeks ago, I said we would hope for the best but plan for the worst.

“And of course we continue to hope for the best. The way to get there and to achieve that optimum outcome is if we all follow the rules, wash our hands, cover our faces, keep our distance – and get a test if we have symptoms, so that NHS Test and Trace can keep the virus under control.

“This is how we will avoid a return to full national lockdown.

“We’ve made huge progress together.

“I know we are going succeed and I know we are going to beat this – if each and every one of us plays our part.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was right to respond to a “warning light on the dashboard”.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “I’ve said throughout the pandemic that there would be fresh outbreaks.

“I think from May I said – when we set out our plan – I said ‘we would not hesitate to put on the brakes at the slightest sign the numbers we’re going in the wrong direction’.

“We’re now seeing a warning light on the dashboard, it is right to respond in the way that we are.”

PA Media