Prime Minister Boris Johnson poised to delay England's Covid lockdown lifting to July

ITV News Correspondent Helen Keenan has the details on the easing of restrictions

The final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England may not go ahead on the much-awaited June 21 date.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks set to delay the country's opening up following another sharp rise in cases of the Delta variant, first identified in India.

Ministers are considering putting back the relaxing of controls for up to four weeks – potentially to July 19 – as they race to roll out the vaccine to the remainder of the population.

A final decision is expected to be taken on Sunday, ahead of a formal announcement by the Prime Minister at a news conference the following day.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly confirmed to ITV News an announcement will be made on Monday, in line with the PM's roadmap dates, and stressed the decision would be based on the data.

'We wouldn't want to trip up now at, perhaps, what is the final hurdle'

"We wouldn't want to trip up now at, perhaps, what is the final hurdle. So that's why we're carefully considering the data," Mr Cleverly told ITV News.

"We've urged people to be cautious, both in their actions and in their planning because we always knew that there would be a chance of mutations, or variants of this virus.

"That's why we're being cautious but very keen to ease restrictions where they are safe to do so."

The minister would not be drawn on whether the rise in Delta cases was as a result of the government being slow to close the border with India, where the variant was first identified.

Experts have called for a delay to lockdown easing to allow more people to get vaccinated. Credit: PA

The potential delay to lockdown easing comes amid repeated warnings from some scientists that the rapid spread of the Delta variant could lead to a “substantial” third wave if controls are lifted.

Doctors and leaders in the British Medical Association (BMA) joined calls on Friday for the final lifting to be put on hold so that millions more can gain the protection of the vaccine.

BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “With only 54.2% of the adult population currently fully vaccinated and many younger people not yet eligible, there is a huge risk that prematurely relaxing all restrictions will undo the excellent work of the vaccine programme and lead to a surge of infections.

“It’s not just about the number of hospitalisations, but also the risk to the health of large numbers of younger people, who can suffer long-term symptoms affecting their lives and ability to work”.

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Professor Tom Solomon, director of the Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool, agreed with a delay too.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday he said: "I don’t think we can afford again to make a bad decision and open up on the 21 [of June] and then within a few weeks we realise that was the wrong decision and then we are having to go all the way back.

"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.

"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."

Revellers at a Liverpool nightclub for a Covid safety pilot event in April Credit: Richard McCarthy/PA

A delay will come as a bitter blow to many businesses, however, particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors, which had been pinning their hopes on a full summer reopening to help recoup some of the losses of the past year.

For Labour, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the country was now paying the price for the refusal of ministers to heed the warnings of its own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

“Any delay in rolling back restrictions would be a huge blow for many families and businesses across the country. The fault for this lies squarely with Conservative ministers,” he said.

“Despite warnings from Labour, Sage and others they continued with a reckless border policy that allowed the Delta variant to reach the UK and spread".

A woman receives an injection of the the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Scientists now estimate that 96% of all new cases of coronavirus are attributed to the Delta variant.

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show 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% 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.

Meanwhile, Merton Council in south London has announced that it is stepping up targeted surge testing in two areas – including an industrial estate in New Malden – where there have been recent outbreaks.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Additional testing is also being carried out in Staffordshire and in Northwich and Winsford in Cheshire.

The setback comes as leading figures behind the successful vaccination programme were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

They include the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine mastermind Professor Sarah Gilbert and the ex-chairwoman of the UK vaccine taskforce Kate Bingham who are both recognised with damehoods.