Desperate British pig farmers tell Johnson: Ease immigration rules

By Kate Holton

DRIFFIELD, England (Reuters) – Two sisters running a pig farm in northeast England have a message for Prime Minister Boris Johnson: lift strict immigration rules for butchers or risk seeing the pork sector collapse under the weight of overly fattened animals.

Farmers across Britain say a combination of Brexit and COVID-19 have sparked an exodus of east European workers from abattoirs and meat processors, leaving pigs to back up in barns and fields across the country.

As the pigs gain weight from the extra time spent on the farm, eating food that has also jumped in price, they risk passing the size threshold at which abattoirs impose financial penalties because they have become harder to handle.

While some have started culling pigs, others like Kate Morgan and Vicky Scott are desperately trying to keep theirs until they can go for slaughter, but they warned that tensions were running high and many farmers were quitting the job.

“The pressure is like pressure we’ve never had before, emotionally it’s absolutely draining, financially it’s crippling,” Scott told Reuters over the squeals and grunts of a couple of hundred pigs. “We’re in a fairly bad place right now.”

Industries across Britain have warned in recent months that they are struggling to maintain operations after European workers returned home in the summer, with gaps being felt on farms, in factories and throughout the freight sector.

The problem has hit pig farming hard. Making little profit at the best of times, it is now losing money on every pig sold and the National Farmers Union warned two weeks ago that up to 150,000 pigs could be culled.

TECHNOLOGY AND WAGE HIKES

Morgan and Scott say a 25% capacity cut by their abattoir has left some 5,000 pigs in the towering barns that stand out on the open, flat fields of east Yorkshire. While talking to Reuters they received news of another abattoir cancellation.

Morgan said they were doing everything they could to avoid a cull but that the pressure was building. “We are juggling everything, trying to put pigs where maybe they shouldn’t be just so that we don’t get to that situation,” she said.

She urged Johnson to ease post-Brexit immigration rules and allow European butchers to enter Britain without needing to first pass a comprehensive English language test, a requirement that the industry says is putting off workers.

The pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears. Johnson has said businesses need to wean themselves off the “drug” of cheap migrant labor and invest in technology and higher salaries to recruit enough British workers.

He has provoked the ire of farmers in recent weeks by quipping, variously, that bacon sandwiches come from dead pigs and that animals are bred on farms to be slaughtered.

“Have you ever had a bacon sandwich?” Johnson asked a Times Radio journalist when questioned about a possible pig cull. “Those pigs, when you ate them, were not alive.”

Scott says their farm has ploughed money into technology and retained staff by frequently hiking wages. The problem lies in abattoirs and meat processors where butchers are often more efficient than machines. The sisters note that higher wages in the sector would also lead to higher food prices.

Short term, Scott says a relaxation of visa rules is the only solution to get the industry straight. “Hopefully the government are listening to us now,” she said. “It’s critical, it’s very time critical and we need them to do something, now.”

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

British army to start driving tankers as queues for fuel continue

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) -British soldiers will start driving tankers to replenish empty pumps, as drivers queued again for fuel after days of shortages, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the situation was improving.

Britain has been gripped by a rush of panic-buying for almost a week that has left pumps dry across major cities, after oil companies warned they did not have enough tanker drivers to move petrol and diesel from refineries to filling stations.

Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said 150 soldiers had been mobilized, and would be driving tankers within a few days.

“The last few days have been difficult, we’ve seen large queues. But I think the situation is stabilizing, we’re getting petrol into the forecourts. I think we’re going to see our way through this,” Kwarteng said.

Johnson has sought to quell concerns, saying supplies were returning to normal while also urging people not to panic buy.

A shortage of around 100,000 drivers has sown chaos through supply chains and raised the specter of empty shelves and price increases at Christmas.

Asked if he could guarantee that there would not be problems in the run-up to the busy retail period, Kwarteng said: “I’m not guaranteeing anything. All I’m saying is that, I think the situation is stabilizing.”

By the early morning rush hour there were already long queues of cars in and around London and on the busy M25 orbital motorway circling the capital. Signs were up at some sites announcing no fuel was available.

The gridlock has sparked calls for doctors, nurses and other essential workers to be given priority access to fuel, a move Johnson has resisted.

Industry groups said the worst of the shortages seemed to be in London, the southeast and other English cities. Fights have broken out as drivers jostled.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent retailers who account for about two-thirds of all the 8,380 UK filling stations, said on Tuesday 37% its members’ stations were out of fuel.

The shortages have added to an air of chaos in the world’s fifth-largest economy, leaving gaps on supermarket shelves. A spike in European wholesale natural gas prices has also tipped energy companies into bankruptcy.

Britain left the EU single market at the start of this year, preventing haulers from recruiting drivers in the bloc. To tackle the shortage, the government has said it will issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign drivers, a measure it had previously ruled out.

“What we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through until Christmas and beyond, not just in supplying the petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain,” Johnson said.

Haulers, petrol stations and retailers say there are no quick fixes as the shortfall of drivers is so acute, and transporting fuel demands training and licensing. European drivers may also be reluctant to take up the visa offer, which only lasts until Dec. 24.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by Michael Holden and Peter Graff)

As fuel pumps remain dry, UK’s Johnson says plans in place for supply chains

By Michael Holden, Kylie MacLellan and Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought on Wednesday to quell public fears as panic-buying left fuel pumps dry across major cities, saying the government was making preparations to ensure supply chains were ready for the run-up to Christmas.

Johnson said the situation at gas stations was improving, though in many regions, hundreds of forecourts remained closed and motorists spent hours hunting for fuel or sat snarled in queues waiting to fill their tanks.

“We now are starting to see the situation improve. We are hearing from industry that supplies are coming back onto the forecourt in the normal way and I would just really urge everybody to go about their business in the normal way,” Johnson said in televised remarks.

Johnson’s comments were his first since the fuel supply problems began at the end of last week when oil companies reported difficulty transporting petrol and diesel from refineries to filling stations.

Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer accused him and the government of lurching from “crisis to crisis”.

There have been growing calls for doctors, nurses and other essential workers to be given priority in filling their cars to keep hospitals and social care services running, but Johnson said it would be better if “we stabilize it in the normal way”.

SUPPLY CHAINS

An air of chaos has gripped Britain, the world’s fifth-largest economy, in recent weeks as a shortage of truck drivers strained supply chains and a spike in European wholesale natural gas prices tipped energy companies into bankruptcy.

The post-Brexit dearth of truckers has been exacerbated by a halt to truck-driving-license testing during COVID lockdowns as well as people leaving the haulage industry.

It has sown chaos through supply chains and raised the specter of widespread shortages, price increases ahead of Christmas, and a prolonged rise in inflation.

“What we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through until Christmas and beyond, not just in supplying the petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain,” Johnson said.

To tackle the shortage of drivers, the government has been forced to bring in measures it had previously ruled out, such as issuing temporary visas to 5,000 foreign drivers.

It has also put a limited number of military tanker drivers on standby to be deployed to deliver fuel if necessary.

Haulers, petrol stations and retailers say there are no quick fixes as the shortfall of truck drivers – estimated at about 100,000 – is so acute, and because transporting fuel demands additional training and licensing.

Ministers want businesses to pay more and offer truckers better conditions, rather than count on cheap foreign labor.

“What I don’t think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration again,” Johnson said. “We tried that for a long time… and in the end people could see it was leading to a low-wage, low-skill approach.”

‘CRAZY’

Industry groups said the worst of the fuel shortages seemed to be in London, the southeast and other English cities. Fights have broken out at some forecourts as drivers jostled for fuel and pictures on social media showed some people filling up old water bottles with fuel.

“I can’t believe it – it’s crazy,” said David Scade, a 33-year-old delivery driver who drove for hours searching for fuel in London. “They keep saying there is no shortage but I suppose everyone is panicking now.”

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers who account for 65% of all the 8,380 UK forecourts, said there were signs the crisis was abating.

“We have conducted a survey of our members this morning and only 37% of forecourts have reported being out of fuel today,” said Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA, which had previously reported up to 90% of stations had problems.

“With regular restocks taking place, this percentage is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours.”

Retailers, truck drivers and logistics companies have warned that prices for everything from energy to Christmas gifts will have to rise because of the shortage of truck drivers.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) urged the government to broaden the size and scope of its temporary visa scheme.

“It will take many months before there are enough new British drivers to cover the shortfall,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC.

European drivers have also indicated they would not take up the visa offer, which only lasts until Dec. 24. Some Polish haulers said the offer was laughable and the German freight industry said drivers who left after Brexit would not go back.

(Additional reporting by Ben Makori, James Davey, and Joice Alves in London and Rene Wagner in Berlin; Writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Alistair Bell, Philippa Fletcher, Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

UK lawmakers condemn PM Johnson and U.S. President Biden over Afghanistan

By William James and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) -British lawmakers vented their anger on Wednesday at Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden over the collapse of Afghanistan into Taliban hands, calling it a failure of intelligence, leadership and moral duty.

Speaking at an emergency session of parliament, recalled from its summer break to discuss Afghanistan, Johnson said the Taliban would be judged on their actions, not their words, after they sought to convince the world they would not seek revenge.

But, barely a minute into his opening address, Johnson faced a critical interruption from a member of his own Conservative Party, setting the tone for what would be a skeptically-received speech about how Britain wanted to be at the heart of an international coalition holding the Taliban to account.

“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access, and the rights of girls to receive an education,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who attempted to head for a holiday on Saturday only to return as the Taliban closed in on the Afghan capital, was accused of “careless leadership” by opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer.

“There’s been a major miscalculation of the resilience of the Afghan forces and staggering complacency from our government about the Taliban,” Starmer said.

Former Conservative prime minister Theresa May also asked how Britain could have so miscalculated the strength of the Taliban, which took Kabul on Sunday in a lightning offensive.

“Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge of the position on the ground so inadequate?” she asked her successor. “Or did we just feel that we have to follow the United States and hope that, on a wing and a prayer, it would be all right on the night.”

ANGER AT BIDEN

The speed of the Taliban’s gains after U.S.-led forces withdrew the bulk of their troops from Afghanistan surprised the West, leaving many nations having to scramble to get their diplomats and Afghans who had helped them out of the country.

Several lawmakers on Wednesday focused on the U.S. decision to withdraw – a move which Johnson admitted left Britain with no choice but to pull out its own forces – and Biden’s subsequent criticism of Afghan forces’ surrender.

Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee who himself served in Afghanistan, told the hushed chamber that he, like other veterans, felt anger and grief.

“I’ve watched good men go into the earth, taking with them a part of me, and a part of all of us,” he said.

“To see (Biden) call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful. Those who have never fought for the colors they fly should be careful about criticizing those who have.”

Britain has said it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans during the first year of a new resettlement program that targets a total of 20,000 and will prioritize women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Labor lawmaker Chris Bryant called for the program to be accelerated, asking: “What are the (other) 15,000 meant to do? Hang around and wait until they’ve been executed?”

(Reporting by William James, Writing by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Michael Holden, Alison Williams and Gareth Jones)

Britain reports highest deaths from COVID-19 since March as Johnson urges caution

By Alistair Smout and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain reported its highest number of deaths and people in hospital with coronavirus since March on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging caution despite a week of lower reported numbers of infection.

Britain reported 131 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest daily total since March 17, though it came after just 14 deaths were reported on Monday, suggesting the weekend might have impacted when deaths were reported.

The number of COVID-19 patients in British hospitals has also steadily risen to 5,918, also the highest since March, following a spike in cases earlier this month.

The number of new infections has fallen each day for the last seven days, though Johnson stressed the pandemic was not over.

“It is very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about (lower case numbers),” Johnson told broadcasters, noting it would take a while for the lifting of restrictions in England to feed through to the data.

“People have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government.”

Johnson has lifted restrictions in England and is betting he can get one of Europe’s largest economies firing again because so many people are now vaccinated, a decision which marks a new chapter in the response to the novel coronavirus.

Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said the effective end of Britain’s pandemic could be just months away as vaccines have so dramatically reduced the risk of hospitalization and death.

“We’re not completely out of the woods but the equation has fundamentally changed,” Ferguson, whose modelling of the virus’s likely spread at the outset of the pandemic in early 2020 alarmed governments across the world, told the BBC.

“I’m positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.”

ON THE WAY DOWN

Johnson lifted COVID-19 restrictions in England on July 19. New daily cases in the current wave peaked two days earlier at 54,674 and have since fallen dramatically, to 23,511 new cases on Tuesday.

The closure of schools for summer, the end of the Euro 2020 soccer championships and warmer weather are among factors epidemiologists say might have reduced social mixing indoors and therefore cases, even as England’s economy has fully reopened.

Case numbers have been falling for longer in Scotland, where the recent peak in new infections was on July 1, than in England, corresponding to an earlier elimination from the Euros.

“Both of them seem to coincide in some ways with the end of activity in the Euro 2020 tournament,” Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Reuters, adding that changes in testing patterns might mean that the sharpness of the drop is overstated in daily testing figures.

“(Cases) may go up again, because we’re only just going to be starting to see the effect of the complete release of restrictions associated with July 19 in England. So there may still be rises yet to come.”

Britain has one of the highest official fatality rates from COVID-19 in the world, with 129,303 deaths, but vaccinations and lockdowns have greatly slowed the rate since March.

Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said a gradual return to usual social activity would help smooth the end of the current wave, but that the next few weeks would be unpredictable.

“On the way down is always bumpier than the exponential rise on the way up,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Janet Lawrence, Catherine Evans, William Maclean and Mike Harrison)

England to demand vaccination proof for clubs, mass events

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that English nightclubs and other venues with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September.

Clubbers flocked on Monday to the first live music events without restrictions since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The government reopened nightclubs and dropped almost all coronavirus measures in England in a bet that mass vaccinations will prevent another deadly wave of COVID-19.

But later in the day, Johnson announced that people who were not fully vaccinated, including those who had not had both doses of two-shot immunizations, would be barred from nightclubs.

The decision follows large outbreaks linked to nightclubs in other countries such as the Netherlands and Israel, where authorities were forced to close them again.

“I can serve notice now that by the end of September when all over 18’s will have had their chance to be double jabbed, we’re planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather,” Johnson told a press conference.

“Proof of a negative test will no longer be enough.”

Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said nightclubs and other closed venues could be “potential super spreading events” because of crowds in close contact.

“I would expect that with opening of nightclubs, we’ll continue to see an increase in cases, and we will see outbreaks related to specific nightclubs as well,” he said.

Johnson said that the government was not planning similar requirements for pubs. “I certainly don’t want to see passports for pubs,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

COVID-19 crisis could return quickly as infections surge, UK adviser warns

By Alistair Smout and Kanishka Singh

LONDON (Reuters) -England’s coronavirus crisis could return again surprisingly quickly and the country is not yet out of the woods, the British government’s chief medical adviser said, as infections surged ahead of the lifting of legal restrictions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is removing most pandemic restrictions in England from July 19, saying a rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.

Some scientists are worried, though. Daily reported cases are at their highest since January, while the reproduction “R” number remains above one, indicating a continued exponential growth of cases.

“We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this,” Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said late on Thursday during a webinar hosted by the Science Museum.

He added that the doubling time for hospitalizations was around three weeks, and that low numbers of people in hospital currently could escalate in next couple of months.

“It doesn’t take many doublings until we’re in actually quite scary numbers again … I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast,” Whitty said.

The Office for National Statistics estimated as many as 1 in 95 people in England were infected with COVID-19 in the week to July 10, the highest prevalence since February.

“New cases of Delta will lead to long COVID, hospital admissions and deaths,” said James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute

“The ratios between these have been massively changed by the safe and effective vaccines we are administering but the link is not eliminated.”

WRECKING THE ECONOMY

Britain’s COVID-19 death toll is among the highest in the world but two-thirds of its adult population have been fully vaccinated.

On Monday, the last remaining businesses still closed in England, including nightclubs, can finally reopen, but business leaders have warned that the self-isolation requirement for people exposed to positive cases could hinder the economy.

Over 520,000 contact tracing alerts were sent through the National Health Service app in the week to July 7.

“The hospitality sector, 20% of staff are isolating, the health service up to 25% of staff are absent, and buses and trains delayed,” Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told LBC radio.

“This cannot go on … This is wrecking the economy.”

A spokesperson for Johnson said that “self-isolation remains one of the best tools that we have to tackle the virus”.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout in London; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper in London; Editing by Karishma Singh, Guy Faulconbridge, Catherine Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)

‘Be cautious’: Johnson goes ahead with lifting England’s COVID curbs

By Costas Pitas and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people on Monday to show caution when nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in England next week, saying an increase in cases underlined that the pandemic was by no means over.

England will from July 19 be the first nation in Britain to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance. The government says Britain’s vaccination drive – one of the world’s fastest – has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.

But what was once billed as “freedom day” is now being treated with wariness by ministers after a new surge in cases and fears that there could be as many as 100,000 new infections a day over the summer.

Johnson set a somber tone, defending his decision to lift most of the remaining restrictions by saying the four conditions the government set itself had been met, but also warning the country that more people would die from the coronavirus.

“We think now is the right moment to proceed…But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over,” he told a press conference.

“To take these steps we must be cautious and must be vaccinated,” he said, adding that England would see “more hospitalizations and more deaths from COVID”.

Johnson added: “I generally urge everyone to keep thinking of others and to consider the risks.”

Earlier, health minister Sajid Javid told parliament that people should still wear masks in crowded areas like on public transport and should only gradually move back to the workplace, and that the government would encourage businesses holding mass events to use health certification as a way to open up.

Business welcomed the move, but also called on the government to offer clearer guidance. Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies still did not have the full picture they needed.

“Business leaders aren’t public health experts and cannot be expected to know how best to operate when confusing and sometimes contradictory advice is coming from official sources,” she said.

GLOBAL STRUGGLE

After 18 months of pandemic, governments around the world have been wrestling with how and when to reopen their economies.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded on Monday that coronavirus restrictions had been lifted in the Netherlands too soon and he apologized as infections surged to their highest levels of the year.

Britain has implemented one of the world’s swiftest vaccination programs, with more than 87% of adults having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 66% having received two.

The Conservative government argues that the fact that deaths and hospital admissions remain far lower than before, even though cases have risen sharply, is proof that the vaccines are saving lives and it is now safer to open up.

But the surge in infections to rates unseen since the winter has raised concern, with some epidemiologists saying the Euro soccer championships might have helped fuel the rise.

Britain, which ranks 20th in the world for per-capita reported deaths from COVID-19, on Monday reported a further 34,471 COVID-19 cases, up 26% in a week, and six additional deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

London’s Wembley Stadium hosted the Euro 2020 final on Sunday between England and Italy. Large crowds gathered in London, including around the stadium, and there were reports that some had gained entry to the match without tickets to join the more than 60,000 who had them – much to the dismay of the World Health Organization.

“Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?” WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted in the late stages of the match.

“The #COVID19 pandemic is not taking a break tonight … #SARSCoV2 #DeltaVariant will take advantage of unvaccinated people, in crowded settings, unmasked, screaming/shouting/singing. Devastating.”

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, William James and Michael Holden in London, Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)

UK’s Johnson delays COVID reopening by a month, citing Delta variant risk

By Alistair Smout and William James

LONDON (Reuters) -Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed his plans to lift most remaining COVID-19 restrictions by a month on Monday, warning that thousands more people might die if he did nothing because of the rapid spread of the more infectious Delta variant.

Under the final stage of a plan outlined by Johnson in February, he had hoped to lift most social restrictions on June 21, meaning pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and other hospitality venues could fully reopen.

That much-anticipated step was pushed back to July 19.

“I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” Johnson told a news conference. “As things stand, and on the evidence that I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks.”

The extra time would be used to speed up Britain’s vaccination program – already one of the world’s furthest advanced – by shortening the recommended time between doses for those aged over 40 to eight weeks from 12 weeks.

The situation would be reviewed on June 28, which could allow the reopening to be brought forward, although Johnson’s spokesman said that was considered unlikely.

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% more transmissible than the previous dominant strain and scientists have warned that it could trigger a third wave of infections.

The opposition Labor Party blamed the government for the delay, saying it had been too slow to close borders to travelers from India.

On Monday, Britain recorded 7,742 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths. Johnson said the number of cases was growing by about 64% per week and the number of people in hospitals’ intensive care units was rising.

“By being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people,” he said.

Britain has officially reported almost 128,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the seventh highest number globally.

Monday’s decision was based on scientific modelling which showed that, if the reopening went ahead as planned, under some scenarios hospitalizations could match those in March last year when ministers feared the health system could be overwhelmed.

“The four week delay should reduce the peak – whatever it would be – by something between 30 and 50%,” the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said.

Studies on Monday showed the Delta variant doubles the risk of hospitalization, but two doses of vaccine still provide strong protection.

Unlike in March 2020, the increase in hospitalizations was likely to be among younger people who require shorter treatment and are less at risk of dying.

Nevertheless, the risk of increased pressure on the health system meant that the tests the government set out for going ahead with the reopening had not been met.

Johnson sets COVID-19 restrictions for England, with devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making their own policy.

NO NEW SUPPORT

There are no plans to extend new economic help to businesses as a result of the delay, Johnson said. He said current data on vaccines and infections showed no need to do so.

Britain’s furlough program supports just over 2 million jobs and is due to continue until the end of September. But from July employers will have to pay 10% of furloughed staff’s wages, rising to 30% in September.

The hospitality industry has also called for an extension of other sector-specific aid. The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre said thousands of jobs were hanging in the balance.

Despite Monday’s delay, the government lifted some restrictions on the number of guests allowed to attend weddings, and will continue pilots of crowds at sporting events and theatrical shows.

Deutsche Bank estimated last week that a four-week delay would temporarily reduce gross domestic product by around 0.25% – a fraction of the historic 9.8% slump recorded in 2020.

It 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% of the adult population.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Young and David Milliken; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alex Richardson)

Delta coronavirus variant believed to have 60% transmission advantage: UK epidemiologist

LONDON (Reuters) – The Delta coronavirus variant of concern, first identified in India, is believed to be 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which was previously dominant in Britain, a prominent UK epidemiologist said on Wednesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that England’s full reopening from COVID-19 lockdown, penciled in for June 21, could be pushed back due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London told reporters that estimates of Delta’s transmission edge over Alpha had narrowed, and “we think 60% is probably the best estimate”.

Ferguson said that modelling suggested any third wave of infections could rival Britain’s second wave in the winter – which was fueled by the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, south east England.

But it was unclear how any spike in hospitalizations would translate into a rise in deaths, as more detail was needed on how well the vaccine protects against serious illness from Delta.

“It’s well within possibility that we could see another third wave at least comparable in terms of hospitalizations,” he said.

“I think deaths probably would be lower, the vaccines are having a highly protective effect… still it could be quite worrying. But there is a lot of uncertainty.”

Britain has seen over 127,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, but has given more than three-quarters of adults a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Public Health England has shown that the Delta variant reduces the effectiveness of Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots among those who have only received one shot, though protection is higher for those who have received both doses.

Ferguson said that up to a quarter of the Delta variant’s transmissibility edge over Alpha might come from its immune escape from vaccines, saying it was “a contribution but not an overwhelming contribution” to its advantage.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Sarah Young and James Davey)