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Sturgeon follows Johnson in slowing lockdown easing

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Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday signalled that plans for easing of coronavirus restrictions will be put on hold until next month, as Scotland followed England in opting to slow reopening to allow more people to be vaccinated.

The Scottish government had previously hoped that following a three-weekly review restrictions across the country could be reduced next Tuesday to the lowest tier, known as level zero.

However, amid a rise in cases of the Delta variant first identified in India, Sturgeon told the Edinburgh parliament: “It is reasonable . . . to indicate now that it is unlikely that any part of the country will move down a level from June 28.”

Instead, she said the Scottish government would use the extra three weeks of current restrictions to increase the proportion of adults given a double dose of vaccine.

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“Doing that will give us the best chance, later in July, of getting back on track and restoring the much greater normality that we all crave,” Sturgeon said.

On Monday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said a planned June 21 date for a full reopening in England would be delayed at least until July 19, with the aim of ensuring two-thirds of adults were fully protected with two shots.

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On Tuesday, Sir Simon Stevens, head of England’s NHS, announced that people as young as 18 would be called forward for vaccination from the end of the week as the Westminster government seeks to outpace the growth of the Delta variant. On Tuesday, new infections stood at 7,673, a rise of almost 39 per cent over the past week.

In total, 79.4 per cent of the UK’s adult population have now received a first dose and 57.4 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data.

Addressing the annual conference of the NHS Confederation, Stevens said 23 and 24 year olds could now arrange appointments through the national vaccination booking service “and I expect that by the end of this week we’ll be able to open up the national booking service to all adults aged 18 and above”. 

He added: “Of course, vaccination supply continues to be constrained so we’re pacing ourselves at precisely the rate at which we are getting that extra vaccine supply between now and July 19.”

Stevens added that, while more than 91 per cent of people over 50 had received both jabs, 1.3m people in that age group had yet to be vaccinated and “the opportunity stands” for them.

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He also emphasised the importance of completing immunisation of people aged over 40, 4.5m of whom have yet to receive their second dose. 

Adding that just 1 per cent of hospital beds across the country were currently occupied by Covid-19 patients, he said “the age distribution has really flipped as a result of vaccination”. Whereas back in January, 60 per cent of those hospitalised had been over 65, it was now only around 30 per cent with the remainder being younger people “whose prospects are much greater”, he added. 

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