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Boris Johnson is expected to announce a delay of up to four weeks for lifting coronavirus restrictions in a No10 press conference tomorrow night.
While the final decision will only be made overnight, rising infections and hospital admissions are set to force the Prime Minister to shelve plans for easing curbs.
He pencilled in June 21 as the date for triggering Stage Four of the Government's “roadmap” for relaxing measures.
But surging case rates fuelled by the Indian variant are likely to derail the plan.
Latest figures show 7,738 cases in the last 24 hours – up 52.5% in a week. Another 187 patients were admitted to hospital – an increase of 15.2% on the rolling seven-day average.
A string of government advisors today predicted a delay of up to four weeks to step four – which was meant to lift the six-person limit on indoor gatherings – to July 19.
One, Dr Raghib Ali of Cambridge university's Epidemiology Unit said a delay to June 21 was “inevitable”.
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Dr Ali believed “a four-week delay would be optimal”, adding: “What I expect the PM to say is based on that data, unfortunately a delay is needed to make sure we don’t get to the situation again where the NHS is unable to provide care to all its patents.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab signalled the June 21 easing would indeed be delayed – stressing the change was always meant to be “no earlier than June 21”.
The top Tory confirmed ministers are “racing” to get more people double-jabbed before opening up.
Crucially Mr Raab suggested Brits need to “sever” the link between cases and hospital admissions – “not just weaken it”.
This appeared to be a major shift from the government’s “four tests”, which only said cases should not “risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Boris Johnson tends to give a Monday night No10 press conference when changing restrictions
(Image: Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street)
But Downing Street rowed back today, telling journalists: “We have the four tests and those have not changed.”
Foreign Secretary Mr Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “The race we’re in is to get everyone up as far as we possibly can to two doses.
“Because that maximises the effectiveness both of risk of serious harm to people, but also we know it’s more effective at cutting the transmission.
“So I think it is right to characterise that as the test.
“The question is what the evidence says about whether we’ve broken the link – severed the link, not just weakened it – between transmission and hospitalisation.”
He added: “We want to move out of lockdown irreversibly and that means we have to be very careful about that data.”
Dominic Raab suggested Brits need to “sever” the link between cases and hospital admissions – “not just weaken it”
Government advisors united to call for a delay as the Delta variant, first seen in India, spreads through the UK.
Experts believe it is at least 60% more transmissible than the Kent variant, which fuelled a winter spike and scuppered Christmas.
Adviser Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Virus Threat Advisory Group, warned there was a “very worrying rise” in infections and hospitalisations.
Professor Openshaw told Times Radio: “We do need to concentrate on getting as many people as possible vaccinated over the next few weeks to counter the rise of [the Indian variant].”
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) which advises the Government, told Times Radio: "I think we'll hear a delay, because all the data now points that way.
“In a situation where things are getting worse we don't know how much worse they're going to get.
“We don't know how many people are going to get seriously ill. There's still a lot of damage that can be done, therefore it makes good sense to pause.
“I think pausing not moving forward is not enough when things are getting worse and we should be thinking about all sorts of measures, not further restrictions, not lockdown, but the basics that we've never got right.
“There are all sorts of things we should be doing better to lower the level of infections to make sure we're not going backwards. The real issue now isn't should we go forwards … it's how do we stop ourselves going backwards?"
Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry predicted foreign holidays will have to be abandoned for Brits this summer.
The Shadow Trade Secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think it’s very unlikely people will be able to go abroad this summer I’m afraid.
Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry predicted foreign holidays will have to be abandoned for Brits this summer
(Image: Cornwall live)
“We need to hear what the ministers say, they need to give us clear instructions.
“People will do the right thing, so long as they know what it is they’re expected to do.
“The problem time and time again is it really hasn’t been clear.”
Warning the Government not to go ahead with Step Four yet, professor Andrew Hayward, Director of College London's Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show: “We have got to be really cautious because there is still a substantial chance we could have a wave of hospitalisations which could put substantial pressure on the NHS.”
He added: “If you are driving down a road and coming to a bend, and you're not quite sure what's round that bend, you don't put your foot on the accelerator.”
Hospitality chiefs demanded "certainty" from the Government and called for extra support.
Face masks and social distancing could remain after June 21
(Image: NurPhoto/PA Images)
Jonathan Neame, chief executive of pub owner Shepherd Neame, said: "The key thing right now is certainty.
“If there has to be a delay then it should be short and time specific because we need to be absolutely certain that things will change from that date. What we absolutely can't have is a return to a cycle of five-week reviews without knowing how things will end up."
Tory backbenchers piled pressure on the PM to stick to the original timetable.
Former minister Steve Baker claimed: “It’s increasingly clear that the modellers are our masters now”.
Conservative Marcus Fysh told the Sunday Telegraph: "I cannot see any reason to observe restrictions domestically and I have no intention of doing so. That goes for Parliament, too. There is no way that I'll be doing any more social distancing or masks. Whatever they say the rules are, I will ignore them from June 21."
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned experts are braced for a fresh coronavirus surge later this year.
He admitted Covid-19 cases would rise as temperatures cooled and people spent more time indoors again.
“We expect there to be increased pressure from coronavirus in the winter again,” he told a video link briefing for journalists at the G7 Summit.
Sir Patrick spoke as Tory ministers voiced fears that England could see Covid restrictions until Spring 2022.
With experts saying it's "inevitable" Boris Johnson will delay the end of lockdown rules on June 21 to as late as July 19, a senior minister warned there would be only a “very short window to open up” before cases rise again from September.
The minister told the Sunday Telegraph: “I am very worried the people who want to keep us shut down now want to keep us shut down permanently and are aiming for 'zero Covid'.
"Once you start delaying to the spring, you're making this type of control of people's lives semi-permanent."