Busy bars and restaurants on Old Compton Street, Soho, in London in April 2021.
SOPA pictures | LightRocket | Getty Images
LONDON – The UK on Monday further eased restrictions on its economy and social contact, but the spread of the variant of Covid, which first surfaced in India, threatens a total lifting of the measures.
Lockdown measures were eased in England, Wales and most of Scotland on Monday, meaning pubs, bars and restaurants are now allowed to serve customers inside. Museums, cinemas and theaters can be reopened; and exercise classes and indoor sports can resume.
In addition, up to six people or two households can now socialize indoors, and gatherings of up to 30 people are allowed outdoors, although the rules differ slightly between member states in the UK. Northern Ireland is expected to ease restrictions on indoor dining from May 24.
International travel can also be resumed on Monday if people are allowed to participate in foreign holidays. Countries were put on a “green”, “amber” or “red” list – with different quarantine rules for returning to the UK – determined by their infection rate.
While the reopening is a sigh of relief for the hospitality, leisure and travel industries, the lifting of restrictions will be tempered by a surge in Covid cases attributed to a variant of the coronavirus that first emerged in India.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a cautious approach to the reopening, warning that the proliferation of the new variant could threaten further easing on June 21 in hopes that all restrictions on social contact would be lifted.
On Friday, Johnson said there is currently no evidence that the variant is dodging Covid vaccines that are being used across the country, but that the new variant “could seriously disrupt our progress … and I must stress that we will do this. ” whatever it takes to protect the public. “
He said the variant was more transmissible than other strains but cautioned it wasn’t clear by how much. UK Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty speaks alongside Johnson, added that there was “confidence” that the strain was “more transferable” than other variants already circulating in the country.
In cases rise
The new variant is also believed to be more transferable than a variant that first launched in the UK last fall. This became the dominant strain in the country, along with the US and parts of Europe.
On Sunday, the UK reported just over 1,900 new cases, bringing the total number of infections registered in the UK to 4,450,777. As of Sunday, 15,918 cases had been reported in the past seven days, an 8.6% increase over the May 3-9 period, according to the government.
This surge in cases has led the government to change its vaccination strategy. Those over 50 and clinically at risk will receive their second dose eight weeks after the first dose rather than 12 weeks according to the previous vaccination strategy.
It was announced on Friday that the UK would be running vaccinations and testing in areas where the new variant of Covid, first discovered in India, is spreading.
To date, nearly 70% of the UK adult population have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while just over 38% have received two doses. This UK reached the milestone on Sunday of giving 20 million people a second dose of a Covid shot.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government would make a decision on June 14 whether to finally lift the restrictions a week later. Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Hancock said variants are one of the “greatest risks to this opening”.
“Because of the speed of transmission, it can really spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated groups. So it is important to vaccinate as many people as possible, especially those most susceptible to hospitalization.”
– CNBC’s Matt Clinch contributed to this story.