Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions will rise if the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England are lifted on June 21, health experts are warning.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to err on the side of caution and delay the next stage of his road map as new figures show case rates have increased in every region in England.
For the second day in a row on Thursday, the UK recorded more than 7,000 new Covid cases.
In the past seven days, coronavirus cases have risen 63.2%, largely due to the growing prevalence of the Delta variant (formerly known as the Indian variant) which now accounts for 91% of all the cases in the UK.
Last week, Public Health England warned there is early evidence to suggest there is a "significantly increased risk of hospitalisation" from the Delta variant in comparison to the Alpha variant (also known as the Kent variant) and is thought to be 40% more transmissible.
Jim McManus, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said data – and not dates – should be behind the final decision, adding: “Patience now will pay off in the long run.”
Separately, The Times reports ministers are considering a four-week delay to a full reopening in England to give businesses and people certainty.
The latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE), published on Thursday, showed case rates had risen in nearly all age groups in England and more than doubled among 20 to 29-year-olds, going from 54.0 per 100,000 people in the week ending May 30 to 121.0 in the seven days to June 6.
Mr McManus said: “Covid is not going to disappear on June 21 and lifting all measures as early as the 21st risks reversing the significant progress we have made.
“The complete lifting of measures on the 21st of June not only risks an increase in cases and hospitalisation, but risks the introduction of new variants to the UK which will undermine our vaccination programme and derail our path back to normality.
“The alternatives of locking down or releasing all measures is a false one.
“Instead, we would like to see the extension of the current measures – brought into effect on 17th May – and a delay to the full reopening.
“This will help to prevent a further uptick in cases – particularly in areas experiencing high or enduring transmission – and allow time for more people to be vaccinated and protected against the Delta variant.”
Listen to Coronavirus: What You Need To Know, the Covid-19 podcast from ITV News