UK prime minister, Boris Johnson has reversed a decision to further relax lockdown restrictions in England from Saturday, as the chief medical officer says the country is “at the outer edge” of how far society can reopen with coronavirus.
Speaking at a press conference, the prime minister said it was time to “squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep that virus under control”. The postponement of the new freedoms will be delayed until at least 15 August.
Rules on face coverings would also be extended from 8 August, meaning people would be obliged to also wear them in indoor venues such as museums, galleries and cinemas, Johnson said. The decision to allow weddings to have up to 30 guests is also being reversed.
The announcements come hours after the government imposed new restrictions on more than 4 million people across northern England. “I’m really, really sorry about that, but we just cannot take the risk,” Johnson said about the impact on businesses and families.
However, guidance that employers should allow more staff to begin working from offices again will still be in place from Saturday, part of a government push to get the daytime commuter economy moving again.
Johnson said that since he gave a press conference in mid-July about the gradual easing of rules, “in many ways that progress continues”, such as falling numbers of hospital patients. But he added: “I have also continually warned that this crisis could come back and we would not hesitate to take swift and decisive action as required.”
Citing new statistics showing a rising national incidence in COVID-19 cases, Johnson said the time had come to “act rapidly”, saying local lockdowns such as in Leicester had worked well.
The decision to not go ahead with the planned next stage of easing lockdown in England appears to also have been made at very short notice, with public health leaders in cities saying they had not been warned in advance.