I share my constituents’ disappointment that the decision has been made to delay lifting the final restrictions until 19 July. The Prime Minister has always been clear that we would need to satisfy four tests to move on to the next stage of the roadmap, including considering new variants of concern. We know that the Delta variant is spreading rapidly, with cases growing by 64 per cent per week. During my fortnightly meetings with our local public health officials I have been reassured that the situation in our area is being monitored closely. We must remain cautious in our approach to ensure that the easing of further restrictions does not have to be reversed further down the line.
It is heart-breaking for all those with events planned in the coming weeks, including school proms, significant life events and long overdue celebrations which had all been planned after a year when we have sacrificed so much. The limit on the number of people you can meet indoors will remain at six or two households, and 30 outdoors for a little longer. However, the limits for weddings will be lifted which is extremely welcome news for couples and the industry more widely. A limited series of pilot events including UEFA EURO 2020 matches and the Wimbledon tennis tournament will also be able to go ahead with greater capacities. Out-of-school settings can organise domestic residential visits for groups of up to 30 children. It does feel as though we are nearly there.
However, I know the news will have a significant impact on business confidence. The decision to delay was not taken lightly. By giving ourselves an extra four more weeks, I hope it will give the NHS sufficient time to get further ahead with the vaccination programme. In North Oxfordshire we have been making significant progress: a total of 170,068 vaccinations have been administered. 72.3 per cent of those aged 18 and above have received a first dose; 51.3 per cent are fully vaccinated. From today 23- and 24 year olds can book their vaccine, and all those aged over 40 are able to re-book their second dose, bringing it forward from the 12 week gap to just 8 weeks.
I remain hopeful that by 19 July we will have achieved our target to vaccinate two thirds of adults, including all those over 50, the vulnerable, and frontline care workers. Everyone aged 18 and over should have been offered their first dose as well. We all want to see an end to restrictions; it is essential that when people are invited, they book their vaccination. It is the best line of defence against coronavirus. In the meantime, I would encourage people to remain vigilant, respect social distancing rules, continue to wash hands regularly and make the most of the fresh air.