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Boris Johnson cancelled major moves out of lockdown due tomorrow including the reopening of wedding parties and casinos in response to a rise in coronavirus cases.

The Prime Minister called a press conference to announce that he was “squeezing the brake” on the reopening of the economy and society in order “to protect those we love”.

Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer standing beside him, was more hardline, saying: “We have probably reached the limits, or near the limits, of what we can open up.”

He added in a decisive intervention by the scientist to stop ministers to open things up further: “The idea we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is wrong.”

The dramatic halt to the easing up of lockdown nationally is a bitter disappointment to businesses desperate to continue trading and to millions of families hoping for more freedom.

The key announcements were:

  • Small wedding receptions and the reopening of bowling alleys and casinos that were due to begin tomorrow are postponed “for at least two weeks”.
  • Face coverings to be mandatory in indoor settings where people are likely to come into contact with people they do not know, including museums and places of worship from August 8.
  • People can still go back to work where their employers have made the workplace safe. 
  • Shielding of two million people will be “paused” tomorrow as planned but vulnerable people, like those who have cancer, should be extra careful.  Further details for them are to follow.

Boris Johnson: UK cases are on a rise according to ONS

“I know that the steps we are taking will be a real blow to many people, to everyone whose wedding plans have been disrupted or who cannot now celebrate Eid in the way that they would wish,” said Mr Johnson.

“And I’m really, really sorry about that but we cannot simply take the risk.”

Prof Whitty, who is said to have intervened earlier this week to insist on quarantine measures for holidaymakers returning from Spain , made clear he believed that if lockdown was further relaxed there would be tragedy. “If we do not pull back and we start having further interactions, then we can expect to see an increases in cases with all the consequences that go with it.”

The press conference came an hour after new official figures showed cases creeping up significantly for the first time since May, with an estimated 4,200 new infections per day.

Last night a partial return to lockdown for 4.5 million people in Greater Manchester and parts of Yorkshire and East Lancashire was rushed out, barring them from socialising in homes and private gardens.

An apologetic Mr Johnson said he hoped the relaxation would continue in mid August. “We will of course study the data carefully and move forward with our intention to open up as soon as we possibly can.

“Two weeks ago I also said that from tomorrow the Government would give employers more discretion over how employees can work safely, whether by continuing to work from home, or attending a Covid-secure workplace.

“And we know that employers have gone to huge lengths to make workplaces safe so that guidance remains unchanged.

“I also said that we would pause shielding nationally from August 1, based on clinical advice and that national pause will proceed as planned, and our medical experts will be explaining more about that decision and about the shielded group later.”

The Prime Minister said Britain was better prepared than in March, with new treatments, mass testing and tracing. But he said: “I’ve also consistently warned that this virus could come back and that we would not hesitate to take swift and decisive action as required.

“I’m afraid that in parts of Asia and in Latin America, the virus is gathering pace and some of our European friends are also struggling to keep it under control.

“As we see these rises around the world, we can’t fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble.”

Labour pointed out that was exactly a fortnight since Mr Johnson claimed things would get “back to normal” before Christmas.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Times Radio: “Two weeks ago, Boris Johnson was suggesting it could all be over by Christmas and I think many people thought there would be a kind of lull in this virus across the summer.

“Actually what we’re seeing is an increase in infection rates. We’re obviously seeing worrying outbreaks across Europe and it is a reminder that this virus hasn’t gone away.

“In fact it is beginning to uptake and we understand therefore why he has had to make these decisions, why he’s had to roll back some of the easings that would have been in place for tomorrow.

“Of course it comes off the back of the devastating news yesterday that we’ve now had the highest death rate in Europe confirmed and I think a lot of people accept the Government were too slow early in responding to this virus back in February and March. So I think it’s understandable why they’ve had to make these decisions so quickly and dramatically in the last 24 hours.”

Nicola Sturgeon’s government in Scotland advised Scots against non-essential travel across the border to the zone covering Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire.

Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer backed the Manchester partial lockdown but criticised the muddled announcements last night. “There should have been a press conference announcing this with real clarity,” he said.

Papers released from Sage, the scientific advisory group, showed he growth rate and R value of coronavirus transmission in the UK has changed slightly in the last week, new figures published by the Government show.

Boris Johnson outlines changes to lockdown amid growing cases in the UK

Data released on Friday revealed the growth rate is now between minus 4 per cent to minus 1 per cent, compared with a rate of minus 5 per cent to minus 1 per cent per day, last week.

The R value for the UK is between 0.8 to 0.9, a slight change from 0.7 to 0.9.

The figures are published by the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

A growth rate between minus 1 per cent to minus 4 per cent means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1 per cent to 4 per cent every day, the report said.

It added: “However, we are starting to see early indications that these values may be increasing.

“This is not yet reflected in these estimates because the data used to calculate R and growth rate reflect the situation from a few weeks ago.”

New official data this morning found some 35,700 people in England had Covid-19 in the week to July 26 – around one in 1,500 individuals.

The Office for National Statistics warned: “There is now evidence to suggest a slight increase in the number of people in England testing positive in recent weeks.”

It estimated around 4,200 new cases per day. Some 6.2 per cent tested positive for antibodies, suggesting they had the infection in the past.