Boris Johnson has been forced to delay the end of England’s coronavirus restrictions by up to four weeks after being warned the move could lead to thousands of deaths and unbearable pressure on the NHS.
The Prime Minister announced the setback to the final phase of his plan to end the lockdown on Monday due to concerns over the rapidly spreading Delta variant first identified in India.
Although the Government has agreed to remain at step three of the road map for easing coronavirus restrictions for four more weeks, there will be a limited relaxation of rules in some areas sooner than July 19.
But what has changed following Mr Johnson’s announcement, what will stay the same and why and are there any exemptions?
What is the biggest change?
The cap of 30 guests for wedding ceremonies and receptions will be lifted, the Prime Minister has confirmed.
As with current rules for funerals, the number of attendees will be determined by how many people the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place.
However, food and drink must be ordered, served and consumed by guests seated at a table, and dancing indoors is still not permitted, except for the couple’s first dance.
Has there been an update on vaccines?
It was also confirmed that those aged 40 and over will now have their second doses brought forward from the planned 12-week interval to eight weeks.
This was previously announced for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable, who have been offered their second dose earlier in a bid to dampen the impact of the Delta variant.
What is staying the same?
Although the delay of the June 21 lifting restrictions will come as a blow to many, it does not mean the Government will now go backwards through the road map.
England will remain at Step 3 for a further four weeks, with the rule of six set to continue indoors, alongside limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas.
Working from home where possible will continue to be advised, nightclubs will stay shuttered and legal limits on social contact will remain in place.
Why is step four being delayed?
Modelling suggests that had the easing of lockdown on June 21 not been delayed, hospital admissions could have reached the heights of the first peak in March 2020.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, is believed to be between 40% and 80% more transmissible than the Alpha strain, while there are around 8,000 new cases a day, the highest since February.
In around one-third of England, cases are doubling every week, with a national figure of a 70% weekly growth.
Experts feared that going ahead with Step 4 would put unsustainable pressure on the health service, leading Mr Johnson to delay this step for four weeks until July 19.
What businesses still can't reopen?
Nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and larger events will now not be able to reopen until July 19.
MPs are still set to vote on the delay, and the proposed extension will be reviewed to see if restrictions can be eased sooner on July 5.
The delay would mean the rule of six will still apply to indoor gatherings while outdoor parties will be limited to 30 people.
Pubs and restaurants will also still be restricted to table service only despite the Euro 2020 football championship underway.
Theatres and other big indoor venues will remain restricted to 50% capacity, or 1,000 people, as part of the delay plans.
Under current rules larger events are restricted on how many people they can host.
Indoor events such as gigs have a capacity limit of 1,000, or 50% - whichever is the smaller number - and outdoor events can welcome up 4,000 or 50% capacity.
Outdoor events which are seated, such as football matches, are capped at 10,000 or 25%.
Nightclubs across the UK have been shut for more than 15 months due to the on-going lockdowns.
Are any large events exempt?
Some major events of the English sporting summer are set to be exempt from strict capacity limits despite the Government’s decision to delay the easing of all remaining coronavirus restrictions.
Between 10 and 15 sporting and cultural events over the next four weeks are set to be included in the Government’s extended Events Research Programme (ERP) and therefore be exempt from the strict capacity limits which came into force at step three of the road map on May 17.
England’s group games at Euro 2020 had already been granted ERP status and will continue to be played in front of crowds of 22,500 – 25 per cent of capacity at Wembley – and it is understood the hope is to go up to at least 50 per cent capacity for one of the last-16 matches at Wembley, plus the semi-finals and final.
The extended ERP will cover a mixture of events and operate up to full capacity in some cases, though whether that is permitted for the Euro 2020 final on July 11 remains to be seen.
The All England Championships at Wimbledon, which start on June 28, and Formula One’s British Grand Prix over the weekend of July 16-18 are two of the other major sporting events understood to be under consideration for test event status.
For those events which are not part of the ERP, the rules will remain as they have since May 17, and stay in place until July 19 at the earliest.
For outdoor venues with a seated capacity of 16,000 or above, the limit is 10,000 or 25 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest.
For outdoor venues with less seating than that, the limit is 4,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest. For indoor venues, the limit is 1,000 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lowest.
That will place further pressure on matchday revenue for many sports clubs and governing bodies, an income stream which has been virtually non-existent during the coronavirus pandemic and something the Government has recognised in its winter and summer sport survival packages.
While the step three restrictions rely purely on social distancing, test events are set to continue to look at other mitigations.
The Euro 2020 group games, for instance, require ticket holders to provide proof of full vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test result.
A number of sporting bodies have supported the idea of some form of Covid certification for entry to events, with Premier League executive director Bill Bush describing it in the past as an “acceptable burden” and saying that the alternative would be tiny crowds and a ban on away fans.
Its chief executive Richard Masters hopes the 2021-22 Premier League season will kick off in front of full capacity venues in mid-August.
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