DELAYING the end to all coronavirus is “wrong”, the police chief for the Thames Valley has claimed -- but he urged residents to continue ‘following the rules’.

Matthew Barber was reacting to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap June 21st as England’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’, which would have marked the end of all remaining coronavirus restrictions.

Instead, the nation will be subjected to the same rules it has endured since May 17 until July 19 -- a delay of four weeks.

This will mean capacity limits for sports, pubs and cinemas will remain, with nightclubs to stay shut.

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The government moved to delay ‘Freedom Day’ after scientists warned pushing ahead with the planned re-opening of the country could risk a surge in hospital cases following the spread of the new Delta variant across England.

Reacting to the decision, newly-elected Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber said: “The concern though is whether the Government, advised by SAGE, will have the courage to remove the restrictions in a month’s time.

“This is a judgement, one that very few envy the Prime Minister for. I happen to think that on this occasion the judgement being made is wrong, but I must also entertain the possibility that I am the one who is mistaken.

“As I began, the impact of the virus is real and so lives are at stake. My criticism is therefore not made lightly.”

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He added: “Under the current level of restrictions. Delaying will not stop that growth in cases. Instead we will reach 19th July with a significantly higher number of cases in the population, a higher R-number and sadly as a result we will have seen more deaths.

“If now is not the right time to start our return to normality then when? We know now that vaccination is the route out of this.

“Uptake has been incredibly high. Delivery extremely effective.

“The battle may not have been won, but the message is clear – the vaccination protects. Of course delaying will allow that protection to be spread further, but those doses of vaccine would still have been able to be administered during late June and early July even if theatres were allowed to open.

“On 19th July cases will be higher. More people will be in hospital and more will have lost their lives.

“There may be a further variant that is not fully understood. All of these will be good and honest reasons for a further delay, yet each of them must be weighed against the value of our liberty.

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“I will continue to follow the rules for an additional four weeks. Not because I slavishly agree with Government policy or for fear, but because I believe in the rule of law.

“I would encourage everyone to continue to follow the regulations, and indeed the guidance which is in place to keep us all safe.

“Thames Valley Police officers have done an incredible job of delivering appropriate and proportionate enforcement, whilst as ever putting themselves in harm’s way at the height of the pandemic.”

He concluded: “Does this mean I am happy about the delay? Most certainly not. I believe the decision to postpone the releasing of the final lockdown restrictions is mistaken.

“I fear that 19th July will not be “Freedom Day” and that we will gradually slide into a winter of further restrictions. I sincerely hope that it is me who proves to be mistaken in four weeks’ time!”