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PM postpones lockdown easing but ‘no plans’ to extend furlough

Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed a four-week delay to easing lockdown restrictions on Monday evening but ruled out additional support for businesses and declined to say what the delay meant for holidays abroad.

Johnson confirmed an extension of the current phase-three restrictions in the UK due to an “exponential” rise in infections due to the Delta variant of the Covid virus.

The delay in easing lockdown from June 21 to July 19 had been widely expected.

Johnson declared “now is the time to ease off the accelerator” but insisted: “I’m confident we won’t need to go beyond July 19.

“We’re not going backwards. To businesses being asked to wait another four weeks I would say the June 21 date was always a not-before date. I’m confident July 19 will be a terminus date.”

Asked what he would say to would-be holidaymakers, Johnson said: “On travel abroad the most important thing is to follow the red, amber and green guidance.

“I would not want to give any other guidance at this stage.”

He refused to be drawn on whether he agreed with transport secretary Grant Shapps that people “would not have long to wait” to travel on holiday or with environment minister George Eustace that people “should not travel”.

Asked if the government could extend furlough and other support schemes for the aviation and travel sectors, Johnson said: “We have made sure the furlough scheme will continue till September.

“On the basis of what we know now we don’t think we’ll need to change that.”

Travel industry leaders immediately called for additional government support for the sector.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The delay to the full reopening of the domestic economy highlights again the importance of a rethink around financial support for businesses that continue to find trade severely constrained.

“The government must look at extending existing support measures, including delaying the increase in furlough contributions, extending protections from commercial landlords and keeping full business rates relief.”

Tanzer pointed out international travel “will continue to be under constraints once the domestic economy unlocks” and insisted: “We must finally see a package of tailored financial support for travel agents and tour operators.

“Without this, we’ll continue to witness people lose their businesses and many thousands more will lose their jobs.”

UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft said: “Tourism businesses are balanced on a knife edge. The government must act swiftly and implement additional support measures for hospitality and travel businesses.”

Johnson declined to give a straight answer when asked whether the July 19 date would see the end of social distancing and mask wearing,

He said: “At that stage, people may want to keep social distancing, may want to keep being sensible.

“I’m aware many businesses need to move beyond social distancing. I’m determined to be able to do that by July 19. At the moment I’m confident, but we have to be cautious to achieve an irreversible road map.”

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