'Freedom day' pushed back as exit from lockdown 'delayed by fortnight' due to Covid case spike

The final easing of Covid restrictions could be pushed back by two weeks to ramp up vaccinations as virus cases surge

A two-week delay to the planned easing of restrictions in England on June 21 is reportedly being considered after Covid cases have spiked.

The UK on 4 June recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases – 6,238 – since late March, according to official figures.

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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.

The i has reported plans to lift restrictions could be scaled down, with social distancing, working from home and the wearing of face coverings set to continue amid concerns the Indian variant is fuelling a surge in cases.

The newspaper also said social distancing in bars and restaurants is likely to remain, along with limits on audiences in theatres and cinemas.

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Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said keeping social distancing in place would threaten the sector.

A two-week delay to the planned easing of restrictions in England on June 21 is reportedly being considered - meaning social distancing in pubs will still be needed (Getty).

“Sorry but leaving social distancing in place in pubs, restaurants, hotels and attractions means that June 21 is not freedom date at all,” she tweeted.

“It means that those businesses continue to operate at a loss and threatens the long term viability of businesses, jobs and the recovery.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 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.

But No 10 sources said suggestions of a delay to the road map was “speculation”, with the Prime Minister telling broadcasters this week there was still “nothing in the data at the moment that means we cannot go ahead with Step 4”.

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.

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.

The Health Secretary 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.

Matt 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.

Analysis by the PA news agency shows the majority of major hospital trusts in England are currently continuing to average no Covid-19 admissions despite rising case numbers, with 50% of the population now fully-vaccinated.

Additional reporting by PA.