Coronavirus vaccinations are now available to people ages 18 and older in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.
The broadening of eligibility comes days after a surge in cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant led Mr. Johnson to keep restrictions in place for an additional four weeks. He had previously announced that virus precautions would be pulled back June 21 — a date that British news outlets started to refer to as “Freedom day.”
The decision will be reviewed in two weeks, but, in the meantime, restaurants and pubs will still face social distancing rules indoors that will limit capacities, and theaters and nightclubs will remain closed.
In a video posted on Twitter on Friday, Mr. Johnson directed people to the National Health Service website to book appointments. He thanked Britain’s youth, who he said had made monumental sacrifices over the past year, and urged them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Since Christmas you’ve been waiting patiently while your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and everyone else lined up for their jabs,” Mr. Johnson said. “Now it’s your turn.”
Despite early struggles in dealing with the virus in Britain, its vaccine rollout has been a success. More than 30 million people, or nearly half of Britain’s population, have been fully vaccinated, according to data from Public Health England. Mr. Johnson expanded vaccine eligibility to those 23 and older earlier this week.
But the seven-day average of new reported cases has been climbing since early May, and increased 120 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Recent studies suggest that more than 90 percent of new cases are the Delta variant, which swept through the country since first being sampled in Britain four months ago.
Mr. Johnson said in his video that he hoped the expanded eligibility would herald the beginning of the end of the virus in Britain.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but after a long and difficult journey, the end is finally in sight,” Mr. Johnson said. “So keep going and following the rules, as you have for so long, get your jabs as soon as you can and let’s finish this thing together.”