The Prime Minister will address the nation from the Downing Street media centre (Image: Getty Images)
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Boris Johnson is set to give a Downing Street press conference at 6pm tonight to officially delay changes to lockdown rules in England.
The Prime Minister is expected to push back the June 21 unlocking by four weeks after cases rose 49% in a week – with hospitalisations up 15%.
With more than 7,000 new cases reported per day, the Prime Minister refused to rule out delaying again beyond July 19.
But the Times, Telegraph and a Tory minister all suggested he could make an exception for weddings, lifting the current 30-person cap on ceremonies, receptions or both.
Health Minister Edward Argar said: "I know that weddings and people in that particular situation will be very much in his mind at the moment, it's one of the things he has been looking at."
Step four of the roadmap for England was meant to axe all legal social distancing restrictions including in pubs and restaurants, and axe the six-person limit on indoor gatherings, from June 21.
A minister hinted weddings will still be allowed to go ahead with more than 30 people
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Nightclubs would have been able to reopen and sports and music events could have gone ahead without distancing.
But a four-week delay to step four is thought to have been signed off last night by a "quad" of Tory ministers.
It's understood Chancellor Rishi Sunak – one of the four – is refusing calls to extend the furlough scheme which starts winding back on July 1 and ends altogether on September 30.
Labour leader Keir Starmer is widely expected to back a delay but will decide after meeting experts Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance to discuss the latest data this morning.
The 6pm press conference is later than usual because the PM is at the NATO summit in Brussels. It could be pushed back if he is late returning from the meeting.
Today the government is also expected to publish long-awaited reviews on social distancing rules and Covid passports – which MPs said this weekend should be killed off.
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Officials will also publish new data on the rise of the Delta variant, first seen in India, which Mr Argar today said is around 40% more transmissible than the Kent strain. It had been said it was 60% more transmissible.
The number of Delta variant cases in the UK has exploded to 42,323 in a week – up almost 30,000 on the week before.
Former government chief scientist Sir Mark Walport said: "We are in the grip of the early stages of a third wave of this virus".
Furious critics have blamed the government for failing to put India on the red list for weeks after warnings about cases surging in the country.
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Ministers were told the very similar B.1.617.1 mutant strain was in the UK on April 1 – but didn't tell the public for two weeks.
And it was only another week later, on April 23, that India was placed on the red list.
Health Minister Edward Argar today claimed "there's no way of knowing" if closing the borders earlier could have saved the end of lockdown.
"It's a hypothetical. It’s possible, but there’s no way of knowing that," he told Sky News.
"I believe we took swift and decisive action – we have some of the toughest border regimes in the world when it comes to tackling coronavirus.
"And I think we acted swiftly and decisively when that was put on the list of variants of concern."
But while it is true that the B.1.617.2 variant was only deemed “of concern” on May 7, the similar B.1.617.1 strain was deemed “under investigation” way back on April 1.
A string of government advisors predicted a delay of up to four weeks to step four to July 19.
One, Dr Raghib Ali of Cambridge university's Epidemiology Unit said a delay to June 21 was “inevitable”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab 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.”
But Downing Street rowed back, telling journalists: “We have the four tests and those have not changed.”
The delay has infuriated Tory MPs – one of whom vowed to defy the rules even when in Parliament.
Another Conservative, Damian Green, told the BBC's Westminster Hour there should be a break clause after two or three weeks.
He said: "I get the point that because of the Delta variant the cases have gone up, hospitalisation has gone up a bit but not a lot, and is below the level of some of the Sage predictions of a few months ago.
"So I think if there is a delay I hope it’s only for a few weeks.
"And I think if it is as long as a month then there should be a break clause after two or maybe three weeks, to say that if we can tell by then that the rise in cases is not leading to a sort of rise in the serious illness that sends people into hospital, then we can unlock earlier.”