Coronavirus: Boris Johnson postpones lockdown easing in England

The further easing of lockdown restrictions in England - due to come in this weekend - has been postponed for at least two weeks, after an increase in coronavirus cases.

Casinos and bowling alleys will remain shut, as Boris Johnson said it was time to "squeeze the brake pedal".


Face coverings will be mandatory in more indoor settings, such as cinemas.

England's chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, warned the UK may have hit its limits on easing restrictions.

Appearing alongside the prime minister at a special Downing Street briefing, Prof Whitty said the "idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control" is wrong.

Asked whether it was safe for England's schools to fully reopen to all pupils in the autumn, he said it was a "difficult balancing act" but "we have probably reached near the limit, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society."

Speaking at the briefing, Mr Johnson said planned changes to guidance for those who have been shielding during the pandemic, and advice for employers, will still go ahead.

The rethink on easing England's lockdown follows new restrictions for people in parts of northern England, after a spike in virus cases.

The prime minister said progress in tackling coronavirus continues, with the daily and weekly number of deaths falling, but warned that some European countries are "struggling" to control it. The UK must be ready to "react", he said.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday suggest infection rates in England are rising, with around 4,200 new infections a day - compared with 3,200 a week ago.

The ONS's estimates of daily cases - based on a sample of households completing swab tests - are higher than the figures for lab-confirmed cases reported by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) because they include people without symptoms who would not otherwise have applied for a test.

Highlighting the ONS figures, Mr Johnson added: "The prevalence of the virus in the community, in England, is likely to be rising for the first time since May."

He said that with "numbers creeping up" it was time to "squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control".

He urged people to "follow the rules, wash our hands, cover our faces, keep our distance - and get a test if we have symptoms", summing the advice up with the slogan: "Hands, face, space, get a test".

A further 120 people have died with Covid-19 in the UK according to the latest DHSC figures, bringing the total number of virus deaths to 46,119. Meanwhile, 880 new lab-confirmed cases have been recorded.

Cases in England are increasing for the first time since May.

Data from the ONS suggests there are around 4,200 new infections a day compared with 3,200 a week ago.

This is not a return to the height of the epidemic in March, but it is telling.

Every restriction we ease increases the ability of the coronavirus to spread, and the government's scientific advisers have always warned there was not much wiggle room to lift restrictions and still suppress it.

The uptick in infections is a warning we may have already passed the limit of lifting lockdown.

That is why Boris Johnson has delayed some of the planned lifting of restrictions in England and face masks will become a more frequent sight.

The big question remains around schools. If the current rules are leading to an increase in cases, can we open schools as well? If we open schools will we have to close something else?

It is worth noting all this is happening in July and scientists suspect the virus will spread even more easily in the winter months.

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