The government appears to be considering a 2-week delay to lifting all Covid restrictions, ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot reports
The planned lifting of coronavirus restrictions on June 21 is under threat, with reports a two-week delay is being considered in government.
A surge in Covid-19 infections, driven by the Delta variant first identified in India, is causing concern among experts, after the UK's coronavirus cases rose by 75%.
Along with a delay, multiple reports also say the next step out of lockdown could be scaled back, with social distancing and face coverings apparently set to continue.
Hopes had remained high for a June 21 reopening, with Boris Johnson insisting this week there's "nothing in the data at the moment that means we cannot go ahead with Step 4".
But on Friday the UK recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases - 6,238 - since late March, according to official figures.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggested the number of people who had the virus in England has increased by around three quarters in a week, taking it to its highest tally since mid-April, with the R value between 1 and 1.2.
Surge testing is being launched in Berkshire amid community spread of the Delta variant, with everyone aged 12 and above in some postcodes in Reading and Wokingham offered PCR testing from Monday.Meradin Peachey, director of public health for Berkshire West said cases are mainly among young people, with “virtually nobody over 60 or anyone who has been vaccinated”.
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According to the Telegraph, a two-week delay to the final stage of Boris Johnson's road map will be used to accelerate second jabs for over-40s, moving from a 12 to eight-week gap between doses, echoing the practise that is already in place for over-50s.
Those aged over 25 will also be offered their first doses from next week, the newspaper said.
Pushing back by a fortnight the plans to lift all restrictions in order to allow more adults to be fully vaccinated could see so-called "freedom day" delayed until July 5.
On Saturday, young people queued for hours as the Covid vaccine was offered to over-18s who live and work in Harrow.
Pfizer jabs were being handed out all day at the Belmont Health Centre in Stanmore and people do not need to be registered with the practice to get their vaccine.
The i newspaper said the government may backtrack on encouraging a return to the workplace, continue with the guidance to work from home if possible, and is also likely to continue with the policy of mask wearing and social distancing on public transport.
The paper also said social distancing in bars and restaurants is likely to remain, along with limits on audiences in theatres and cinemas.
Jeremy Joseph, owner of Heaven nightclub in London, told ITV News that "all the rumours" whether June 21 will happen or not makes it impossible to plan and makes his business financial unviable.
"I'm not a company, I'm one person and some how I have to make this work, I'm working that maybe we'll be open to full capacity on June 21, and then all these rumours, if he [Boris Johnson] knows, say it, how am I suppose to financially survive," Mr Joseph said.
Owner of Heaven nightclub: "Did anyone actually believe that June 21 was ever going to happen? I mean the whole thing is ridiculous"
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) Government advisory panel, said the Government has a "difficult call" to make about easing restrictions on June 21.
He told Times Radio: "The difficult situation the Government have is of course if you delay that then of course you'll get a smaller subsequent wave.
"I mean that's the case with any control policy - if you leave them in for a longer period of time then it's going to reduce cases.
On Wednesday the PM said there's 'nothing in the data at the moment' to cause delay of June 21 reopening:
"But of course, if you delay that we know that negatively impacts businesses, people's livelihoods, and so forth."
Another member of the Spi-Mi panel, Professor Stephen Reicher, said it was foolish to go ahead with full relaxation of Covid restrictions on June 21.
He said: “I think by the government’s own criteria it’s quite clear that it would be foolish to proceed on the data that we’ve got at the moment. The risk would be very great indeed.
“And of course it’s a balance of risks but I think it would be a major risk to go further in opening up.”
He added: “Again, I make the point that it is about data not dates, and if you make it too much about the dates then you box yourself into a corner and I think that’s what the government has done.”
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed he is considering keeping social-distancing restrictions in place for the rest of 2021, calling the two-metre measure "one of the strongest defences that we have" against the virus. No 10 sources said suggestions of a delay to the road map was "speculation".
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government "always expected cases to rise" as lockdown was eased, and that ministers were being "tough" on international travel rules to preserve the route out of lockdown in the UK by preventing new variants from taking hold.
Despite Covid-19 infections having almost doubled in a week, numbers being admitted to hospital over the virus are "not rising very significantly", the chief executive of NHS Providers said.
Chris Hopson said it shows vaccines appear to have "broken the chain" between infection and serious illness.
He told the BBC: "What we think we can start to say now, based on that experience, is that it does look as though the vaccines have broken the chain between catching Covid-19 and potentially being very, very seriously ill and potentially dying.
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"There were very, very few people who have had those double jabs and had been able to have that build-up of protection after those jabs."
A total of 56,602,996 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between December 8 and June 4, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 471,939 on the previous day.
NHS England said 33,525,485 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 150,337 on the previous day, while 23,077,511 were a second dose, an increase of 321,602.
Mr Hancock said vaccines had not managed to completely sever the link between infections and people ending up in hospital but that it was not yet possible to determine whether the Indian variant increased the risk of ending up on a hospital ward.
"That's one of the things that we're watching very carefully, and it's too early to say what the decision will be ahead of June 21, but we'll make sure people know in good time," Mr Hancock told reporters on Friday.