LONDON — Travelers in England were packing their bags, bartenders were polishing their glasses and performers were warming up as Britain prepared Sunday for a major step out of lockdown — but with clouds of worry on the horizon.
Excitement at the reopening of travel and hospitality vied with anxiety that a more contagious virus variant first found in India is spreading fast and could delay further plans to reopen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Britons to “take this next step with a heavy dose of caution.”
“We are keeping the spread of the variant first identified in India under close observation and taking swift action where infection rates are rising,” he said. “I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay.”
Cases of the variant have more than doubled in a week in the U.K., defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections and deaths won by hard-earned months of restrictions and a rapid vaccination campaign. A surge testing and stepped-up vaccination effort was being conducted in the northern England areas hardest hit by that variant.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the variant, formally known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than the U.K.’s main strain and “it is likely it will become the dominant variant.”
On Monday, people in England will be able to eat a restaurant meal indoors, drink inside a pub, go to a museum, hug friends and visit one another’s homes for the first time in months. A ban on overseas holidays is also being lifted, with travel now possible to a short list of countries with low infection rates. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different reopening paths.
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