reported by the BBC but denied by Downing Street.

Asked if Mr. Johnson was the right person to guide the country through the pandemic, Mr. Cummings responded simply: “No.”

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Germany to Ban Most Travel from U.K. Over Covid Variant Concerns

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Germany is banning most travel from Britain starting on Sunday amid concerns about the spread of a coronavirus variant first discovered in India, the German authorities said on Friday.

German citizens and residents of Germany will still be allowed to enter the country from Britain but will be required to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival, Germany’s public health institution said as it classified Britain as an area of concern because of the variant.

The move came just days after Britain reopened its museums and cinemas and resumed allowing indoor service in pubs and restaurants. Many people in Britain have been looking forward to traveling abroad in the coming months, and Spain is set to welcome visitors arriving from Britain without a coronavirus test starting on Monday.

serve as an early warning for other European countries that have relaxed restrictions. This month, the World Health Organization declared the mutation a “variant of concern,” and although scientists’ knowledge about it remains limited, it is believed to be more transmissible than the virus’s initial form.

dozen or so other countries that Germany considers areas of concern because of variants. As of Thursday, Britain had 3,424 cases of the variant first discovered in India, according to government data, up from 1,313 cases the previous week.

Dozens of nations, including European countries and the United States, suspended travel from Britain or imposed strict restrictions earlier in the pandemic amid concerns about the spread of a variant first detected in England.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday that the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England had showed “early signs of a potential increase” in the week ending May 15, although it said rates remained low compared with earlier this year. At its peak in late December, Britain recorded more than active 81,000 cases, compared with about 2,000 this month.

The country’s inoculation campaign is continuing apace, with an increased focus on second doses in an effort to thwart the sort of spikes that led to restrictions imposed earlier this year.

said on Saturday that people over 32 could now book an appointment.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to proceed with a plan to lift all restrictions by June 21, although scientists have warned that the spread of the B.1.617 variant could delay such plans. Most cases of the variant have been found in northwestern England, with some in London.

In Germany, the restrictions on travel from Britain come as outdoor service resumed on Friday in cafes, restaurants and beer gardens after months of closure. Chancellor Angela Merkel urged people to “treat these opportunities very responsibly.”

“The virus,” she said, “has not disappeared.”

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Lockdown Ends in England, for Now, at Least

LONDON — Pubs opened for drinks indoors, lights went on in theaters and airports buzzed with a steady stream of travelers on Monday, but the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England was accompanied by growing fears that a variant of the virus could delay a full return to normality.

The lifting of a wide range of coronavirus rules Monday coincided with a small but worrying spike in cases of a variant, first identified in India, that threatens a lockdown-lifting road map frequently described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “cautious but irreversible.”

Already, the second part of that pledge is sounding less secure than it once seemed. In recent days the authorities have scrambled to ramp up testing and inoculation in parts of the country seeing a sharp rise in cases of the more transmissible variant. More than 6,200 people were vaccinated over the weekend in Bolton, a badly hit town near Manchester in the northwest of England.

The opposition Labour Party has accused Mr. Johnson of bringing on the trouble by delaying a decision to close borders to flights from India last month, while government scientific advisers have expressed their concerns about moving too fast to remove curbs.

Even Mr. Johnson, who is normally only too keen to ridicule pessimists as “doomsters and gloomsters,” urged Britons to be cautious in the face of the threat from the new variant, saying that there was a risk of “significant disruption” to plans for easing rules.

Nor did Mr. Johnson plan to visit a pub or restaurant on Monday to celebrate in front of the TV cameras, his office said.

In recent weeks Mr. Johnson has been able to claim credit for a highly successful vaccine program that, combined with lockdown restrictions, has cut cases and death rates to a fraction of their peak numbers. That has enabled England to start easing the burden on many of the parts of the economy that were worst affected by a lockdown in January.

Under the changes that came into force on Monday, pubs and restaurants can serve indoors as well as outside, people can hug each other and mix inside their homes in limited numbers.

Museums, theaters and movie theaters, sports stadiums, hotels and indoor playgrounds opened their doors again in England, though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have slightly different timetables and conditions for relaxing rules.

A legal ban on all but essential foreign travel ended too, though travelers to any other than a small number of destinations will have to quarantine on their return.

Altogether, that represents the first real breath of freedom for many in England since the third national lockdown was declared in early January. Though restaurants and pubs have been able to serve food and drink outdoors for several weeks, the weather has been unseasonably cold and often rainy, leaving many diners and drinkers shivering in damp beer gardens.

While the government will fight hard not to have to reverse the changes introduced on Monday, there are growing doubts about whether it can proceed with the next stage of the road map. That change, scheduled to take place on June 21, would scrap almost all remaining restrictions.

But with a surge of cases in some communities, including Bolton, the government is refusing to rule out any measures, possibly including the imposition of new restrictions on specific Covid-19 hot spots.

“We must be humble in the face of this virus,” the health secretary, Matt Hancock, told Parliament on Monday, adding that there were now 86 areas with five or more cases of the variant whose higher transmission rate “poses a real risk.” While the overall case numbers, at 2,323, remain low, they have been multiplying rapidly.

Mr. Johnson continues to hear criticism for failing to clamp down fast enough on travel from India, even sparing it for some weeks after placing restrictions on travel from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Under Britain’s travel system those arriving from “red list” countries that are deemed high risk are required to quarantine in hotels.

“Our borders have been as secure as a sieve,” said Jonathan Ashworth, who speaks for the opposition Labour Party on health issues. “The delay in adding India to the red list surely now stands as a catastrophic misstep.”

Pakistan and Bangladesh were red listed on April 9 but India was not added until April 23, and Mr. Johnson’s critics have suggested he was reluctant to upset India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, with whom he is trying to strike a trade deal.

Mr. Hancock rejected that claim and said that significantly more people arriving from Bangladesh and Pakistan tested positive for Covid-19 than those arriving from India. In Parliament on Monday he accused the Labour Party of selective hindsight, saying that last month the Indian variant had not been identified as one of concern.

But some experts believe that the government should have reacted faster to the emergence of the variant. “Many of us in the U.K., we’re appalled at the huge delay in classifying it as a variant of concern,” said Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control.

“You can’t stop diseases from crossing boundaries — they inevitably will,” he said, adding: “But you can slow the spread, and while that’s happening, you can learn more about it.”

Mr. English said that there was not yet enough data available to determine how effective vaccines are in combating the variant, but added that more financial support should be given to those on low incomes who need to self-isolate.

In general, Britons are being offered vaccination based on their age, with those oldest treated first. Appointments are to be extended this week to 37-year-olds, Mr. Hancock said.

However, in areas affected by the Indian variant, health chiefs appear to be offering vaccines to some younger people, using the flexibility in guidelines that, for example, suggest the vaccination of those living in a multigenerational household.

On Monday, Mr. Hancock also said that of 19 cases in Bolton hospitals, most of the patients were eligible for vaccination but had not had one. That prompted a debate in and beyond Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party about whether the lifting of lockdown restrictions should be reversed to protect people who refuse a vaccine.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer and theater impresario, told the BBC that vaccine hesitancy was not only foolish but selfish. He added that he could not reopen his shows without an assurance that all restrictions would be eased as planned from June 21, allowing for full seating without distancing.

“I just feel so strongly at the moment, particularly the people who are not getting vaccinated and everything, just how selfish it is because so many people depend on this June 21 date, they really depend on it,” he said.

Megan Specia contributed reporting from London.

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In Chaos of Super League Fiasco, Johnson Seizes an Opportunity to Score

LONDON — Fans loathed it, politicians opposed it and even Prince William warned of the damage it risked “to the game we love.”

So swift and ferocious was the backlash to a plan to create a new super league for European soccer that on Wednesday six of England’s most famous clubs were in disarray, issuing abject apologies as they disowned the failed breakaway project they had pledged to join.

Yet not everyone was a loser. For Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the crisis has presented a rare opportunity to seize the moral high ground on an issue that matters to many of the voters who helped him to a landslide victory in the 2019 election.

Threatening to use any means he could to block the plan, Mr. Johnson positioned himself as the defender of the working-class soccer fans whose forebears created England’s soccer clubs — and the enemy of the billionaire owners who now dominate the English game.

international soccer authorities threatened reprisals against the super league clubs and players, their position was untenable, he said.

announced in 2019 that it would move its headquarters to Singapore, citing growing demand in Asia.

In recent months, the successful roll out of vaccines against Covid-19 has revived Mr. Johnson’s fortunes after a succession of missteps last year when the government’s handling of the pandemic faltered.

So prevalent is soccer now in Britain’s national life that it cropped up then, too.

In April 2020, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, attacked highly paid soccer players, calling on them to “take a pay cut and play their part,” during the pandemic. But within months the government was outmaneuvered by Marcus Rashford, a star player for Manchester United and England.

Invoking his own poor childhood, Mr. Rashford galvanized a campaign against child poverty, and ultimately forced Mr. Johnson to change policy over free school meals.

This week the boot was on the other foot as Mr. Johnson was able to condemn the super league plans before Mr. Rashford, whose club initially signed up to the proposals.

It required no expertise to be “horrified” at the prospect of the super league “being cooked up by a small number of clubs.,” wrote Mr. Johnson in the Sun newspaper.

“Football clubs in every town and city and at every tier of the pyramid have a unique place at the heart of their communities, and are an unrivaled source of passionate local pride,” he added.

Never a big soccer fan himself, Mr. Johnson framed his opposition to the plan in his belief in competition.

Each year the three worst performing clubs are relegated from England’s Premier League — its top domestic tier — while the top ones qualify to play in European competitions the following season. The European Super League proposal would have seen a number of big soccer clubs becoming permanent members — something that Mr. Johnson likened to creating a cartel.

In fact, when England’s first Football League was established in 1888 it was on a similar model and its membership was not selected on merit, said Matthew Taylor, professor of history at De Montfort University, Leicester who has written widely on soccer.

Yet the furor over the European Super League illustrates the growing role soccer has played in national life in recent decades.

“In the last 15-20 years it seems to be so pervasive and so significant to British culture — very broadly defined — that politicians have to say something,” Professor Taylor said.

No longer does it seem odd for politicians and members of the government “to make statements on issues that 40-50 years ago would have been seen as private matters,” he added.

That change first became noticeable under Tony Blair’s premiership as the growing success of the English Premier League, combined with the country’s “cool Britannia” branding, gave soccer a great profile.

But soccer can be dangerous territory too for politicians. Mr. Cameron was much mocked when he once appeared to forget his long-running claim to support the Birmingham team Aston Villa and seemed to suggest he favored a rival that played in similar colors.

Mr. Johnson, who appears to prefer rugby to soccer, has avoided that fate by never declaring his allegiance to any team.

But suggestions that the government might legislate to control the ownership of clubs seemed to conflict with Mr. Johnson’s free-market instincts.

Although a Saudi Arabian plan to buy the Premier League club Newcastle United ultimately failed, Mr. Johnson promised the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, that he would investigate a holdup to the proposed take over, according to British media reports.

“One of the many dishonesties in all this is that it would allow money to corrupt football,” said Professor Menon, referring to the European Super League plan. “Money has already corrupted football. Rich clubs get richer.”

The professor said he believed that very little would ultimately change because any substantial intervention would upset the successful operations of the Premier League, and therefore annoy fans.

But Professor Taylor pointed to Germany as a successful alternative model, and said that in threatening to intervene in the running of soccer Mr. Johnson might ultimately disappoint some of those who are applauding him now.

“Having made such a significant and bold statement, I don’t think this discussion will go away now,” Professor Taylor.

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