Yesterday the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced a delay of up to four weeks to the easing of coronavirus restrictions planned for Monday 21 June.
Current restrictions, with a few exceptions, remain in place and you should follow the guidance on what you can and cannot do until Monday 19 July.
This is the new date that England is expected to move to Step 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, though the data will be reviewed after two weeks in case the risks have reduced.
Nationally there are currently around 8,000 COVID-19 cases a day, the highest since the end of February, and these are increasing by around 64 per cent each week. Hospitalisations are also starting to rise, with the average number of people admitted to hospital increasing in England by 50 per cent per week.
What’s the situation like in Devon?
The weekly case rate in Devon right now is 16 cases per 100,000. It was seven per 100,000 a week ago. Case rates are currently highest and increasing most rapidly in those aged 20 to 39 years old.
The more transmissible Delta strain is not the dominant variant in Devon just yet. But it is very likely to become so, just as it is already in many parts of the country.
Responding to the delay, Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health, said:
“From a public health perspective, with case numbers rising again across the country and with a much more transmissible variant now the dominant strain, delaying the further lifting of restrictions is sensible.
“Not only will it maintain the rules around social contact, but the delay will also allow more people to receive their first or second vaccinations, offering them valuable protection against this latest strain.
“I ask all Devon residents to be patient. We will get there, but we need to move with great caution. We are seeing case numbers start to rise in the county and we will see the Delta variant becoming the dominant strain.
“We must therefore continue to follow the all important rules on social distancing, wearing face coverings when indoors in public places and washing our hands regularly.
“Please continue to get tested regularly using the rapid lateral flow device (LFD) tests if you don’t have symptoms, and self isolate if you test positive or are asked to do so by contact tracing teams. And please take up the vaccination when you are invited to do so.”
The Leader of Devon County Council, Councillor John Hart said:
“The country’s in a race between our vaccination roll-out and the more infectious variant of the virus so I believe this delay was inevitable.
“We need to close the gap between the proportion of our population who’ve had two jabs and those who’ve only had one because the difference in protection is very, very marked. And we must encourage younger people to book their vaccinations if they haven’t already done so.
“I think many residents of Devon will be pleased with this delay as the county has already been very busy with visitors. But I have to repeat my plea to the government to ensure that our hospitality businesses continue to receive support.
“We’re entering their peak time now and these continuing restrictions will obviously hamper their ability to operate at full capacity, so it is vital that they receive help. In the meantime, Devon County Council will continue to do everything in its power to ensure our economy recovers strongly from the pandemic.”
Why has the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions been delayed by up to four weeks?
Many of us might feel frustrated about the delay in easing coronavirus restrictions this month, and that’s understandable. It’s important to understand why the government has made this decision.
Remember that the government always said lifting the COVID-19 restrictions in a phased way would be led by the data at each step, and that those target dates were ‘at the earliest’ rather than set in stone.
The decision to move safely from one step to the next is based on four tests:
- the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
- evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
- infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
- assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern
At this point, the government’s four tests have not been met.
The UK has rising numbers of positive coronavirus cases, driven by the Delta strain which spreads much more easily between people.
At the same time, the national vaccination programme is very well advanced, but delaying the lifting of restrictions means that even more people will be able to have their first and second doses.
This means that most of the population will be protected from becoming seriously ill if they catch coronavirus, and it reduces the spread of the virus, by the time restrictions are lifted next month.
But we can’t rely on the vaccine alone to prevent the virus spreading. Keeping restrictions that limit our social interaction is a sensible precaution right now, but it takes all of us to do our bit. And by doing so we’re protecting ourselves, our families and friends, and reducing the number of people needing hospital treatment or dying because of coronavirus.
We know the advice. We’ve just got to follow it a little longer, and right now that means redoubling our efforts to stop case numbers escalating.
Vaccination programme accelerated
The vaccination programme is being accelerated to respond to the rapid spread of the Delta variant. By Monday 19 July, all adults will have been offered a first dose and around two thirds of all adults will have been offered two doses of the vaccine.
The latest evidence shows that two doses are needed to provide effective protection against the Delta variant, which is rapidly driving up case numbers because it’s between 40 per cent and 80 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant.
All adults aged 18 years old and over will now be offered a first dose by Monday 19 July, which is two weeks earlier than planned. All adults aged 23 and 24 years old can now book their first dose.
By Monday 19 July, everyone aged over 50 years old and the clinically extremely vulnerable will have been offered their second dose, and those second doses will have taken effect.
Second doses for those over 40 years old will be accelerated by reducing the dosing interval from 12 weeks to eight weeks. All those over 40 years old who received a first dose by mid-May will be offered a second dose by Monday 19 July.
Cases are expected to continue rising due to the transmissibility of the Delta variant, but with the acceleration of the vaccination programme hospitalisations are expected to stabilise.
Some restrictions will change on Monday 21 June
Despite the delay of up to four weeks in moving to Step 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, some restrictions will change on Monday 21 June.
- Life events – The number of people who can attend weddings and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions, and commemorative events following a death such as a wake, stone setting or ash scattering, will be determined by how many people a venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place. The government will update the published guidance on wedding and civil partnership ceremonies, receptions and celebrations and arranging or attending a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic this week.
- Large events pilots – A limited series of large events pilots will take place from Monday 21 June to produce additional evidence on reopening events safely. Attendees will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. This will include some UEFA EURO 2020 matches at Wembley and a small number of other sports, arts and music performances. The full list of pilots, and further details about the events, will be announced by the government shortly.
- Visits in and out of care homes – All care home residents will be able to nominate an essential care giver who will be able to visit them even if the resident is self-isolating. In most cases, residents who go on a visit out of a care home will no longer need to isolate for 14 days when they return. Residents returning from some higher risk visits out of the care home, such as an overnight stay in hospital, will still be required to isolate. Decisions about risks will be made following a risk assessment by the care home for each visit out. The government guidance on care home visiting will be updated this week.
- Overnight trips for out-of-school groups – Out-of-school settings can organise domestic residential visits for children in consistent groups of up to 30 children. This replaces the current limit of six people or two households.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.