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UK PM Boris Johnson poised to delay end of coronavirus restrictions

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to delay a further easing of COVID-19 restrictions by several weeks following concerns about a rapid rise in Delta variant infections.

Under a so-called “road map” outlined by Mr Johnson in February, the government said most social restrictions would be lifted “no earlier” than June 21, when pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and other hospitality venues could fully reopen.

But in recent weeks there has been fast growth in new cases caused by the Delta variant, first discovered in India.

Health officials believe it is 60 per cent more transmissible than the previous dominant strain and scientists have warned that it could trigger a third wave of infections.

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Mr Johnson has not denied suggestions in the media that the end of lockdown would be delayed by up to a month, saying in recent days there was “serious concern” about rising infections and hospitalisations.

“We’re continuing to look at the data. No final decision has been taken and the right time to fill everybody in on what we’re going to do with … June the 21st is tomorrow,” Mr Johnson told reporters after a Group of Seven summit on Sunday.

Health Minister Matt Hancock will update parliament on Monday after Mr Johnson addresses the public at a news conference.

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Junior health minister Ed Argar said on Monday he expected Mr Johnson would announce more aid for business and let parliament have a say if there was a delay in easing capacity constraints.

“I know that when he addresses his decision, sets out what he intends to do around the easing on the 21st, he will address those points as well,” Mr Argar told Sky News.

“He is very mindful of the need for businesses and others to get the support they need if they continue to be locked down or unable to open.”

Britain’s furlough program supports just over two million jobs and is due to continue until the end of September.

But from July employers will have to pay 10 per cent of furloughed staff’s wages, rising to 30 per cent in September.

The hospitality industry has also called for an extension of other sector-specific aid.

On Sunday, Britain recorded 7490 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths, with new infections rising almost 50 per cent between June 7 and 13 compared with the previous week.

Hospitalisations were up 15 per cent between June 2 and 8 compared with the previous seven days.

The government has stressed any easing of restrictions would be irreversible, meaning it would always act with caution.

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The hesitancy comes despite Britain having one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world.

More than 41 million people have received their first shot and nearly 30 million have had both doses – about 57 per cent of the adult population.

-AAP

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