UK puts lockdown-easing on hold as virus spread accelerates

Full Screen
1 / 9

A Muslim man uses hand sanitizer at the Bradford Grand Mosque as Muslims gathered for Eid al-Adha prayers, in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, Friday July 31, 2020. Britains health secretary has defended a decision to reimpose restrictions on social life in a swath of northern England, saying it was important to keep ahead of the spread of COVID-19. The affected region has a large Muslim population, and the restrictions come prior to the Eid al-Adha holiday starting on Friday. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)

LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson put some planned measures to ease the U.K.'s lockdown on hold Friday, just hours before they were due to take effect, saying the number of new coronavirus cases in the country is on the rise for the first time since May.

Johnson said at a news conference that statistics show that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community is likely increasing, with an estimated 4,900 new infections every day, up from 2,000 a day at the end of June.

“We just can’t afford to ignore this evidence,” he said.

“With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should now squeeze (the) brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.”

He called off plans to allow venues, including casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks, to open from Saturday, Aug. 1. Wedding receptions were also put on hold, along with plans to allow limited numbers of fans back into sports stadiums and audiences into theaters.

Johnson said the measures will be reviewed after two weeks.

He said a rule requiring face coverings to be worn in shops and on public transit will be extended to museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.

Scientists advising the government say they are no longer confident that the R figure, which measures how many people each infected person passes the disease to, is below 1 in England. A number above 1 means the virus will spread exponentially.