The announcement, in response to rising UK cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, was made only one day ahead of when significant easing measures for the country had been expected.
Higher-risk settings, such as casinos, bowling alleys, and skating rinks, were to reopen to the public on Aug. 1. Wedding receptions of up to 30 people would also have been permitted, and indoor performances and pilots of larger crowds at sporting events would have begun.
“Today, I am afraid, we are postponing those changes for at least a fortnight,” Johnson said at a press conference.
“I know that the steps we are taking will be a real blow to many people. … I am really, really sorry about that, but we simply cannot take the risk.”
Johnson said the virus, which has killed at least 670,000 people globally and placed a strain on a large portion of global economy, was gathering pace in Asia and Latin America, while continental Europe was struggling to keep it under control.
According to the latest government figures, scientists do not have confidence that the reproduction number of the CCP virus in England is below 1, while a survey by the Office for National Statistics showed infections were on the rise for the first time since May.
There are also indications that the UK could face a second wave of the virus, which has been implicated in the deaths of more than 55,000 people in the UK.
“We’re now seeing a warning light on the dashboard,” Johnson told reporters at an online news conference from 10 Downing Street when asked about a second surge.
“Our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.”
‘Near The Limits’
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Johnson on Friday, said the government had probably reached the limits of reopening the economy and society without creating a rising number of infections.
“We all know that what we have to try and do is to get to the absolute edge of what we can do in terms of opening up society and the economy without getting to the point where the virus starts to take off again,” he said.
“We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society.”
The prime minister’s announcement comes hours after the government imposed specific, tougher rules for social gatherings on swathes of Northern England.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced the new rules on Thursday, which will be legally enforceable, following an upsurge of cases within specific local populations in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and East Lancashire, as well as the Midlands city of Leicester.
“The spread is largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing,” Hancock said in the announcement.
“So, from midnight tonight [July 30], people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors in these areas.”
The new rules mean that one household will not be allowed to meet with another household in private homes or gardens, or, for example, pub gardens.
Households in the affected areas will be allowed to go to bars, pubs, and other hospitality places under the new guidance, but they will not be allowed to visit those places together with other households.
“Two households can meet outside at a social distance in a public place outdoors because the evidence is that outdoor transmission is much lower,” Hancock told BBC News on Friday.
Exceptions will be that households of one adult living alone or with dependent children can mix with one other household that forms their “support bubble.”
There will also be some exemptions in the affected areas for those who are regarded as vulnerable.
Reuters contributed to this report.