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LONDON – Concerned about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared on Monday to announce a delay of up to four weeks for the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England, effectively postponing a long-awaited moment is called “Freedom Day” in the news media.
In a statement scheduled for Monday afternoon, Mr Johnson is expected to say the increasing cases of the Delta variant, first discovered in India, make it impossible, the remaining curbs on the 21st Infections would put health care at risk.
The decision is a political setback for Mr Johnson, an instinctive libertarian who was primarily opposed to the imposition of bans and whose swift introduction of vaccinations has provided a way out of the crisis.
Pubs and restaurants can operate under current rules, but with limited capacity, and gatherings such as weddings are limited. Theaters and night clubs are closed.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the producer of musicals including Cats, has promised to reopen his theaters this month, “come on, hell or high water,” and told the Telegraph that he was ready to be arrested.
It was unclear whether Mr Johnson would allow the remaining restrictions to be relaxed.
But having already had three bans in place, Mr Johnson now says he wants all movements to be “irreversible” and as good as confirmed the delay over the weekend when he said the decision would be cautiously driven on Monday .
Although the UK is a world leader in vaccination, government plans have been thrown off course by the increase in cases of the Delta variant, which British scientists reported is even more transmissible than the variant that swept the country over the winter is.
While the case numbers are still relatively low – 7,490 new cases were reported on Sunday – they have risen rapidly in recent weeks and the Delta variant now makes up the overwhelming majority of all coronavirus cases in England.
Critics who say the government is being too cautious note that cases would always increase when lockdowns were eased. And as variants continue to spread, they argue, policies must take into account the endemic spread of the virus in the population, for example by focusing more on combating hot spots.
So far, the surge in cases in the UK has not translated into major hospital admissions and deaths.
Still, 187 new hospital admissions were reported on Sunday, and the government says it’s not yet clear that the vaccination campaign is far enough to sever the link between case numbers and serious illness.
Government officials have argued that a delay in easing all restrictions would allow more time to increase vaccinations and deliver the second doses, which make the Delta variant vaccine more effective.
“What you have is clearly a race between the vaccines and the virus, and the vaccines are going to win,” Johnson told the BBC on Sunday. “It’s just a matter of speed.”
According to government reports, around 80 percent of adults received a first dose and more than 55 percent two syringes.
The ministers have been debating for days whether they should opt for a delay of four weeks or limit it to two weeks. An alternative is to set a four week period but with a half review.
As people can continue to walk into pubs, restaurants, and stores, albeit with restrictions on social distancing, the effects of the delay will be somewhat mitigated.
But for companies operating at a loss and staying closed, the decision after a traumatic year will be another major blow.
The Night Time Industries Association described the delay as “catastrophic” and noted that companies like nightclubs had already spent millions preparing to reopen.
A Texas federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Houston Methodist Hospital staff who challenged the hospital’s coronavirus vaccination requirement.
South Texas District Judge Lynn N. Hughes on Saturday passed a ruling that upheld the hospital’s new policy announced in April. The judge said the hospital’s decision to require vaccinations for its staff was consistent with public policy.
And he rejected a claim by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse and lead plaintiff, that the vaccines available in the United States were experimental and dangerous.
“The hospital staff are not participating in a human trial,” wrote Judge Hughes. “Methodist is trying to save lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It’s a decision made to make employees, patients and their families safer. “
The judge’s decision appeared to be one of the first to advocate employer-required vaccinations for workers. Several large hospital systems now require Covid vaccinations, including in Washington, DC and Maryland.
However, many private employers and the federal government have not made vaccination compulsory as they are moving operations back to office environments. This year, the Equal Opportunities Commission issued a guide to enable employers to request vaccines for local workers.
In Houston, Ms. Bridges was among those who led a strike on Monday, the hospital’s deadline for receiving the vaccine. And on Tuesday, the hospital suspended 178 employees who refused to get a coronavirus shot.
Ms. Bridges cited the lack of full Food and Drug Administration approval for vaccination as a justification for refusing vaccination. But the FDA, which has emergency clearances for three vaccines, says clinical trials and post-market studies show they are safe, as do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The judge also found that Texas labor law only protects workers from dismissal if they refuse to commit a criminal act.
“Bridges are free to choose whether to accept or reject a Covid-19 vaccine, but if she refuses, she just has to work elsewhere,” he said, also rejecting the argument that employees would be forced.
And the judge called the claim of the lawsuit that compulsory vaccination was comparable to medical experiments during the Holocaust “reprehensible”.
In a statement late Saturday, Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist: “Our staff and doctors have made decisions for our patients, which are always at the center of everything we do.”
The Houston Methodist said it would initiate a process of firing suspended employees if they are not vaccinated by June 21.
Jared Woodfill, the worker plaintiff’s attorney, also made a statement on Saturday, according to news reports, suggesting workers would appeal the verdict.
Even as the pandemic recedes and cities reopen, local leaders in the United States face yet another crisis: a crime wave with no sign of an end.
Mayors are trying to quell a wave of murders, assaults and car thefts that began during the pandemic and fears recovery. According to criminologists, murder rates in major cities rose an average of more than 30 percent last year and a further 24 percent earlier this year.
Some city officials have announced progressive strategies that focus on policing in neighborhoods where trust between officials and residents is frayed. Others have used more traditional tactics, such as increasing surveillance cameras in crisis areas and enforcing curfews in city parks, to evacuate crowds, as police have been doing in Washington Square Park in Manhattan for the past few days.
In Chicago, which reopened fully on Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made it clear that her focus was on reducing summer violence and that, as part of that effort, her administration would focus resources on 15 high-crime areas of the city.
“We owe it to all of our residents in every neighborhood to bring back peace and vibrancy,” said Ms. Lightfoot.
The number of homicides in Miami this year is 30 percent higher than for the same period in 2020, according to the coroner’s data.
This month, Miami-Dade County’s chief attorney and local police leaders turned to public safety and announced efforts that include additional street lights and surveillance cameras, prosecutors in “hot-spot” areas, and crackdown on illegal party venues.