Negotiations to open a travel corridor between Britain and the United States, however, have bogged down. And Britain still maintains a cumbersome set of restrictions on those coming from other countries, including the United States. Frustrated travel executives point out that Britain has been harder hit by the Delta variant than other European countries, though the gap is narrowing.
“We present a greater risk for them than they do for us,” said Steven Freudmann, chairman of the Institute of Travel and Tourism, an industry lobbying group. “It’s ironic that we should be placing restrictions on inbound travel.”
British officials have pledged to revisit these restrictions, but they have shown a propensity to delay other promised steps. “Freedom Day” was originally scheduled for June 21; Mr. Johnson postponed it four weeks amid signs that the Delta variant was turbocharging cases.
Still, the weight of the debate inside his cabinet has shifted, especially after the resignation last week of the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who was caught up in an extramarital affair with an aide. Mr. Hancock was a lockdown hawk; his replacement, Sajid Javid, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, is viewed as much more determined to reopen the economy.
A major test of Britain’s commitment to restoring normalcy will come with the soccer championship. British authorities have yet to allow anything close to a sellout crowd at Wembley, which has played host to several games, including this week’s thriller, in which England defeated Germany. Admissions have so far been capped at 22,000 people in a stadium that seats 90,000. Under current plans, two-thirds of the seats could be filled for the finals.
With Mr. Johnson standing next to her, Ms. Merkel said she was “worried and skeptical” about whether it was a good idea to pack stadiums. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy demanded that the final be moved out of England because of the high incidence of the variant.
The World Health Organization said crowds of soccer fans — whether gathered in stadiums, pubs, bars or fan zones — were fueling a Delta outbreak across Europe. Health officials in Scotland said nearly 2,000 people tested positive for the virus after getting together to watch games. Two-thirds of those traveled to London on June 18 for Scotland’s match with England.