British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to confirm Monday that all remaining lockdown restrictions in England will be lifted in a week’s time while urging people to remain cautious amid a huge resurgence of the coronavirus.
Johnson is expected to say at a news conference that face masks and all physical distancing measures will be lifted in England on July 19. However, given the sharp rise in new cases, he is also likely to downplay talk of “Freedom Day.”
The U.K. as a whole has seen infections soar in recent weeks as a result of the delta variant. Daily infection levels are running at over 30,000, their highest rates since January. Most infections have largely occurred among younger people, many of whom have yet to receive a first dose of vaccine.
Though the government has warned that daily case numbers will rise further, potentially hitting 100,000 at some point this summer, it is pressing on with the unlocking because of the rapid rollout of vaccines.
The government hopes that the vaccine rollout has severely disrupted the link between infections and those needing hospitalization.
However, there is growing evidence to show that the number of people requiring hospitalization and dying from COVID-19 are picking up pace, too, though not at the same rate as infections.
Concern over rising cases
Still, concerns over the rapid increase in cases has piled pressure on Johnson to take a more cautious approach over the latest unlocking. For example, he is expected to recommend that people continue to wear face masks in enclosed places, such as on public transport and in shops.
Public health officials and scientists have been voicing their concerns, saying ditching masks and physical distancing altogether could be dangerous.
Prof. Peter Openshaw, a member of a group that advises the government on new and emerging respiratory viruses, said it was vital to keep some protective measures in place, such as wearing face coverings.
“I really don’t see why people are reluctant to wear face coverings. It is quite clear that they do greatly reduce transmission,” he told BBC Radio. “Vaccines are fantastic but you have to give them time to work and in the meantime keeping up all those measures which we have learned to reduce the transmission is to me really vital.”
The British government, which enforced one of the longest lockdowns in the world, has lifted restrictions for England in a series of steps that began with reopening schools in March. The fourth and final stage was delayed last month to provide time for more people to be vaccinated amid the rapid spread of the delta variant, which was first discovered in India.
Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following their own, broadly similar road maps out of lockdown.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of early Monday morning, Canada had reported 1,420,531 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 5,300 considered active. National deaths stood at 26,436. More than 42.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker.
In Atlantic Canada, there were four new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nova Scotia on Sunday. There were no new cases reported in New Brunswick, and no updates provided in Newfoundland and Labrador or Prince Edward Island.
In Quebec, which is again loosening health restrictions — this time around physical distancing and capacity restrictions — health officials on Sunday reported one death and 77 new cases of COVID-19.
Health officials in Ontario on Sunday reported six additional deaths and 166 new cases of COVID-19.
In the Prairie provinces on Sunday, Manitoba reported one death and 63 new cases of COVID-19
In Saskatchewan on Sunday, health officials reported one death and 19 new cases of COVID-19.
Health officials in Alberta and British Columbia are expected to provide an update later Monday.
Across the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut. There were no updates Sunday from officials in Yukon or the Northwest Territories.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 186.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking coronavirus-related data from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than four million.
The GAVI alliance said on Monday it had signed two advance purchase agreements with Chinese drugmakers Sinopharm and Sinovac to provide up to 550 million COVID-19 vaccines to the COVAX program. The new deals include up to 170 million doses of the Sinopharm shot and up to 380 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, through to the middle of 2022, the statement said. Sinovac confirmed the agreement in a statement.
COVAX, which distributes vaccines to poorer countries, has struggled to meet its early commitments amid Indian export disruptions, forcing many countries to freeze their inoculation programs in their early phases.
In the Asia-Pacific region, authorities in Bangladesh say the country has registered the highest number of COVID-19 casualties and positive cases in a single day.
The government’s Directorate General of Health Services said that 230 people died and 11,874 tested positive on Sunday. That’s a single-day record on both counts. About 100,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last 10 days.
Experts say if the present trend continues, already overwhelmed hospitals would struggle to provide treatment. Bangladesh has been under a nationwide lockdown since July 1. But new records of positive cases are being reported everyday.
Olympic host city Tokyo entered a new state of emergency on Monday, less than two weeks before the Games begin amid worries about whether the measures can stem a rise in COVID-19 cases.
South Korea, meanwhile, recorded 1,100 new coronavirus cases for July 11, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Monday, as the country’s toughest anti-COVID curbs take effect in Seoul in an attempt to quell its worst-ever outbreak.
In Africa, Nigeria’s Lagos state faces a “potential third wave” of infections, its governor said in a statement.
In the Middle East, Israel said on Sunday it will begin offering a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine to adults with weak immune systems, but it was still weighing whether to make the booster available to the general public.
In the Americas, thousands of Cubans joined street protests on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades amid its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union and a record surge in COVID-19 cases.
In Europe, the European Union has delivered enough vaccine doses to member states to reach a target to fully vaccinate at least 70 per cent of adults in the 27-nation bloc, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said over the weekend.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET