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A limit on guests at weddings in England is expected to remain in place a little longer as health officials warn the events could become "superspreader" events, it is reported.
Boris Johnson will reportedly announce on Monday that the lockdown will not end as hoped on June 21 and so-called Freedom Day will be delayed by up to four weeks.
The news would be a devastating blow to more than 50,000 couples who booked weddings for the four weeks after June 21, including many who had dates postponed due to the current and previous lockdowns.
The fourth and final stage of the road map out of lockdown is due to see an end to all legal limits on social contact, a reopening of nightclubs, no restrictions on the size of weddings or other gatherings, and the return of large audiences for events such as theatre performances.
A bride and groom wear face masks as they pose for wedding photos (stock photo)
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Government had set a target of June 21, but a surge in cases of the Delta variant, also known as the Indian variant, will reportedly force a delay to July 19.
Reports suggest there could be a two-week review that would allow the lifting of restrictions on July 5 if hospitalisations stay low.
There were conflicting reports on Saturday over what that will mean for the wedding industry, which has taken a huge hit during the pandemic.
It had been hoped weddings would be given an exemption and the current 30-person limit would be increased.
However, senior Government sources told the Telegraph that restrictions on numbers would have to remain after officials from the Department of Health warned they could become "superspreader" events.
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It came a day after the Times reported that weddings would be exempted if there is a delay in lifting restrictions on June 21.
Ministers were reportedly considering an option where wedding rules would be aligned with those on funerals.
Since May 17, the number of mourners at a funeral is determined by how many people the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place. In some cases it is fewer than 30.
Indoor wakes and other commemorative events following a death have a limit of 30 people.
This suggests wedding receptions could still be limited to 30, even if more people can attend the ceremony itself, the Telegraph reported.
One minister said the uncertainty was "frustrating" and feared the "holding pattern" might hit business confidence.
Sarah Haywood, of the industry body UK Weddings Taskforce, said wedding businesses would "collapse" if there is a four-week delay.
"We have reached the end of the runway," she told the Telegraph.
Ms Haywood said more than 50,000 weddings were booked for the four weeks after June 21 after ministers assured the public and the industry that restrictions would be lifted on June 21.
She added: "In every single meeting with Government, they said they were on track for unrestricted reopening and when we pressed them for a contingency plan, they wouldn't discuss it."
Wedding firms now face having to give refunds to tens of thousands of couples, as the Government had made it clear compensation would not be available, Ms Haywood said.
Boris and Carrie Johnson got married in London last month
If there is a delay, face coverings, work from home advice and social distancing are expected to remain, along with the rule of six and capacity limits on venues such as theatres. Nightclubs would remain closed.
Members of Cabinet's Covid operations committee will make a final decision at a meeting on Sunday.
The Prime Minister, who married Carrie Symonds in a secretly-planned wedding last month, will announce the plans on Monday following a Cabinet meeting.
The UK on Friday reported 8,125 new cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily figure since February 26, when 8,523 were confirmed.
There were 17 further deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive test.
The increase in cases has led the British Medical Association to call for a delay to the unlocking of society.
The wedding industry has been hit hard by a series of Covid lockdowns (stock photo)
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Scientists now estimate that 96 per cent of all new cases of coronavirus are attributed to the Delta variant.
The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) showed there have been 42,323 cases of the Delta variant confirmed in the UK, up by 29,892 from the previous week.
It estimates the strain is 60 per cent more transmissible compared with the previously dominant Alpha, or Kent, variant, and that cases are doubling every four-and-a-half days in some parts of England.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly on Saturday said the Government will make a decision on the next stage of lockdown easing in England based on the latest data.
“We always knew there would be a chance of mutations and variants – that’s why this unlocking process was a progressive one and that’s why we have had these decision points laid out,” he told Sky News.
“That’s why the Government, the Prime Minister and our scientific advisers will be assessing the data and making decisions for the announcement on Monday.
“We will make decisions with regard to lockdown based on the most up-to-date information.”
Several leading scientists and experts have urged the Government to delay unlocking society due to the rise in cases of the Delta variant.
Professor Tom Solomon, director of the Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool, said Covid restrictions should be kept in place for another month until more people are vaccinated.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday he said: “Although the vaccines are having a massive impact and they are keeping the disease under control, we are dealing with this Delta variant which is spreading much more quickly.
This graphic shows Covid-19 hospital admissions in England
(Image: Press Association Images)
“If you look at hospitalisations, they are doubling – the numbers are small but they are doubling approximately every seven days – and so if you then suddenly say we are going to open up completely we may end up with the hospitals overwhelmed again.
“So I think, unfortunately, we are just going to have to maybe give it another month until we have so many more people vaccinated.”
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Government's SPI-M modelling group, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that a four-week delay will give scientists a chance to assess whether a rise in cases is leading to a corresponding increase in hospital admissions.
He added: “Of course they (the vaccines) are not 100 per cent perfect so we need to be cautious. We don’t want to go backwards when it comes to control, we don’t want to be slipping into another lockdown.”
No10 has insisted no final decision has been made.
Anxious brides suffer 'sleepless nights'
Anxious and frustrated brides have said the uncertainty surrounding wedding restrictions has left them suffering “countless sleepless nights” and feeling they would be better off getting married at “half time in a football match”.
Rebecca Lee and her fiance Joe Henderson, both 30 and from Manchester, initially planned to get married on August 22, 2020 – but have had to move the date twice to May 7 and then August 5 of this year.
“My anxiety levels are through the roof. I’ve had countless sleepless nights now with the stress of it all,” Ms Lee, a PR director, said.
Rebecca Lee and Joe Henderson have been forced to twice move their wedding date
“Our original wedding caterer reluctantly had to back out of servicing our wedding because his costs were just spiralling – I felt so sorry for him.”
Ms Lee said the wedding was initially planned for 100 guests during the day and then an extra 30 for the evening, but this has since been reduced to 80.
“I’m due to pay my caterer in a couple of weeks,” she added.
“Do I pay them for 80 and risk losing thousands if it gets reduced to 30?”
Melissa Thorneycroft and Lewis Harper are due to get married on June 26
Melissa Thorneycroft, from Walsall in the West Midlands, said the restrictions make “no sense”.
The 29-year-old’s wedding to Lewis Harper, a 31-year-old delivery driver, is planned for June 26 after being postponed from May 15.
“I remember sitting and watching the Prime Minister’s announcement saying that 30 guests would come in on May 17 – I sobbed!” the research systems and operations manager said.
“Everything was booked at that time ready to go… I’d ordered loads of decor with the original date on, all of which has had to go in the bin.
“We are going to have to face some hard choices if they do not remove the 30 limit.
Bethanie Crane and Ben Thompson fear they'll have to trim their guest list to 30
“If I moved my wedding to half time in a football match 4,000 could attend, it makes no sense.”
Ms Thorneycroft also noted that her venue will lose more than £2,000 of income on food and “even more” on drinks if the restrictions are not lifted.
Bethanie Crane and her husband-to-be, Ben Thompson, a 29-year-old telecommunications engineer, both from North Tyneside, Newcastle upon Tyne, had planned to wed on July 11 2020 but have set a new date for July 17 this year.
“We have already postponed our wedding once and don’t want to do it again due to illness of close family members,” the 26-year-old waiting list officer explained.
“We’re worried about who we may have to cut from our numbers and the money we’re going to lose because of how late the government has left the announcement.
“When changing the date, we lost money. Some of our suppliers were already booked for our new date too.
“I feel if we decide to postpone again we won’t even be able to get another date with all of our same suppliers for at least 18 months.”