Freedom Day delayed: PM faces fury over not closing borders to Delta variant

14 June 2021, 18:14 | Updated: 15 June 2021, 09:04

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson is facing mounting anger after delaying "Freedom Day" in England amid accusations he let the Delta variant run rampant by failing to close borders quickly enough.

It comes after LBC revealed 110 direct flights from India, where the strain originated, landed in the UK in the three-and-a-half weeks after the country was placed on the travel red list.

The Prime Minister announced a four-week delay to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions on Monday evening, and current rules - with some exceptions - are now set to remain in place until July 19.

He blamed the delay on the spread of the Delta variant, which it is feared could cause a surge in hospitalisations if restrictions are eased too quickly.

LIVE: Protesters chant 'shame on you' as PM delays 'Freedom Day' by a month

ANALYSIS: Analysis: 'Freedom Day' delay was 'inevitable' - but who is to blame?

He has previously been strongly criticised for delaying placing India on the red list earlier this year.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth led criticism of the PM, saying: "The Conservatives failed to secure the country's borders and a new variant from overseas was allowed to take hold."

Mr Johnson was also accused of failings that have led to businesses being driven to the brink of "devastation."

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: "The planned reduction in financial support at the end of June could now have dire consequences for jobs and livelihoods, pushing more businesses in sectors such as culture, nightlife and hospitality to the brink of collapse.

"The Government must now act urgently to extend economic support to all businesses who need it.”

The Prime Minister insisted he was "confident" that no more than four weeks would be needed and that restrictions will not go beyond that.

He added: "We will monitor the position every day and if, after two weeks, we have concluded that the risk has diminished then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four, and a full opening, sooner."

He said without the delay "there is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines and that thousands more deaths would ensue which could otherwise have been avoided".

"We can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them," he said.

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned the NHS could "run into trouble" if the number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid continues on an "exponential path".

He said delaying the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England will "reduce significantly the risk of a very high peak" in infections in the coming weeks.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the four-week delay should reduce the peak of the outbreak by 30% to 50%.

He said there were three advantages - over-18s receiving a first dose, more people having the protection offered by two jabs and the proximity to the school holidays which will reduce spread.

Mr Johnson said weddings would be able to go ahead with more than 30 guests - provided social distancing was in place.

The same provisions would apply to wakes, he said.

The capacity of venues will be limited by social distancing requirements.

"We will continue to pilot events such as Euro 2020 and some theatrical performances," he added, indicating they will be allowed larger crowds than under the restrictions currently in place as part of the research programme.

The Government aims to host between 10 and 15 further live event pilots in the four weeks leading up to July 19.

Advice to work from home will remain in place.

The Prime Minister said there was no a need to change the Government's furlough support scheme that runs until September.

He said by July 19 around two-thirds of the adult population would have received two jabs, including all over-50s, the vulnerable and health and care workers, along with over-40s who had received a first dose by mid-May.

"To do this we will now accelerate the second jabs for those over 40, just as we did for the vulnerable groups, so they get the maximum protection as fast as possible," he said.

"We will bring forward our target to give every adult in this country a first dose by July 19."

He added: "It's unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves.

"But now is the time to ease off the accelerator, because by being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people."