T

he end of lockdown will be delayed by at least four weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce today, amid concerns in rises in cases across England.

The end of social-distancing rules–which had been slated for June 21–will be delayed for four weeks to July 19 with Mr Johnson expected to urge the public to show patience for one “last heave”, according to the Telegraph.

It comes amid hope that Mr Johnson will at the same time announce a lift in the number of people allowed to attend weddings.

Ministers were on Sunday night thrashing out plans to let more than 30 guests attend so long as they stick to social distancing.

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India reports 70,421 new COVID-19 infections, 3,921 deaths

India on Monday reported 70,421 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, the lowest since March 31, data from the health ministry showed.

The South Asian country’s total COVID-19 case load now stands at 29.51 million, while total fatalities are at 374,305, the data showed. India added 3,921 deaths overnight.

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Bangkok hospitals postpone COVID-19 shots, citing vaccine shortages

Thailand’s recently launched coronavirus vaccination campaign was hit by confusion in the capital on Monday after at least 20 hospitals in Bangkok postponed COVID-19 inoculation appointments set for this week, citing delays in vaccine deliveries.

The hospital announcements were made on their Facebook pages, while Bangkok’s vaccine booking app also sent messages saying appointments after Tuesday would be delayed, as officials sought to reassure the public over vaccine supplies.

“There may have been confusion because private hospitals did not check with the Bangkok administration,” health minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters on Monday, adding that more doses were being delivered to Bangkok.

Thailand’s main vaccine drive is depending on 61 million shots from AstraZeneca, produced by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by the country’s powerful king.

There have been concerns about a possible shortfall in production, with several countries in the region reporting delays in orders of Thai-made shots.

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Conservative MP Peter Bone said a delay to the lifting of restrictions should not happen “without really good reason” and that currently he “can’t see the evidence why we should be postponing our freedom”.

Asked if he would vote against a delay if put to a vote in Parliament, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What I would do is listen to what the Prime Minister says, listen to the arguments, and if I’m not convinced that these restrictions are necessary then I would of course vote against it and I hope every member of the House of Commons will listen to the argument and make their minds up.

“There has to be a vote in the House of Commons. This can’t be decided by a few ministers sitting behind closed doors. It has to be an open and transparent decision.”

He said there should only be restrictions “if there is a very clear danger to society”.

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South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said the country needs “more assistance” as it faces a third wave of coronavirus.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Hospital beds are becoming shorter, we don’t have enough hospital beds, ICU beds, and deaths are increasing so we are really in a desperate situation.”

He said former British prime minister Gordon Brown was “absolutely right” to brand the gap in vaccinations between rich and poor nations a “moral failure” following the G7 summit.

Mr Ramaphosa added: “I think I should say that there has been great assistance but we need more. We need more assistance, but we also need more demonstration of solidarity. Those who are more well-endowed, who are more capable, should help those who are less capable.”

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A delay to lockdown easing may also help break the link between infections and hospital admissions, a public health professor suggested.

Professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Edinburgh, told LBC that the variant first identified in India now accounted for the majority of UK cases, but the death rate among people with this infection was low.

“You can see amongst people who were infected with this variant, the mortality rate was 0.7%, just 12 people,” she said.

“We think they are all the people who had underlying health conditions and died with Covid, not from Covid necessarily.

“So the proportion of people in hospital now is half of what it was, if we were in the previous situation in 2020 and 2021.”

She added: “We have weakened that link between infections and hospitalisations and death but we haven’t broken it.

“And I think we can break it or certainly have it at a much higher level, if more people have both doses.”

Prof Bauld continued: “We have increasing evidence the vaccines reduce transmission so what we’re trying to head towards is population immunity, where the virus just has less chance to move between individuals and that will involve not only reducing severe infections but even mild infections where long Covid might occur.”

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Boris Johnson will address the issue of support for businesses should the June 21 easing be delayed when he sets out his plans on Monday evening, according to health minister Edward Argar.

Asked if the furlough scheme would be extended, Mr Argar told Sky News: “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.

“I think 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.

“But I don’t want to pre-empt what he will say, but I know he is very sensitive to those factors.”

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Professor Devi Sridhar, from the University of Edinburgh, said a third wave of cases largely in younger age groups was already happening “but the worry is that this will slowly move, like it has in previous waves, into older groups”, some of whom are not yet fully protected.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the goal was to “make this a manageable health issue” and use vaccines and testing to “keep the burden off health services”.

She added: “We’re really trying to break that chain between cases and hospitalisations and severe disease and maintain NHS capacity when burnout is already an issue within the NHS.”

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told the programme: “We’re still very worried about the small numbers percentage wise, but probably large numbers of people, that are still unvaccinated in the higher risk groups.”

He added that the JCVI was “looking carefully at what the Scottish Government has done” with regards to urging over-40s to have their second dose at eight weeks, adding that “it seems to be a sensible strategy, and we will advise the Government accordingly”.

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Health minister Edward Argar defended the Government’s action on when India was added to the travel red list, amid the spread of the variant first identified there within the UK.

He told Sky News: “We have some of the toughest border regimes in the world when it comes to tackling coronavirus and I think we acted swiftly and decisively when that was put on the list of variants of concern.”

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Reaction from the West End

The leader of a central London council has warned of the “devastating” effects on the West End if the end of lockdown is delayed.

Westminster City Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “We are all braced for a delay today in the lifting of social distancing rules – while that will be extremely disappointing and devastating for some sectors, the Government’s priority has got to be to protect people’s health.

“But central London cannot afford any slippage in the fight to revive our economy. Footfall numbers are still down, office workers are staying away in significant numbers and central areas of the city are hurting.

“That makes the case for action now even more compelling. In the West End we continue to support al fresco dining, we are preparing to launch a new campaign to attract visitors to Westminster and we will soon be putting the finishing touches to the new Marble Arch Mound tourist attraction.”

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Big weddings may be allowed despite expected delay to lockdown easing

However, it is understood ministers may sign off on plans to allow larger weddings to go ahead regardless of the delay.

Those with knowledge of the proposals say they will be updated to mirror those currently in place for funerals. 

Indoor celebrations will be allowed at a Covid-secure capacity, which means social distancing and masks would be required. 

It had also been reported that ministers may still allow Euro 2020 crowds at Wembley Stadium to increase to 45,000 by June 26, when the knock-out stages begin.