Boris Johnson will today urge Britons to be patient as he announces that the relaxation of Covid restrictions will be pushed back until next month.
The Prime Minister will confirm that the June 21 Freedom Day has been delayed until July 19 in ‘one last heave’ of restrictions following a sharp rise in cases of the Indian variant, Westminster sources said last night.
Ignoring a mounting revolt by Tory MPs and dire warnings from the hospitality and theatre industries, Mr Johnson will argue that scrapping all restrictions now is likely to fuel the surge – and the public needs to be ‘patient’ so the country does not go into reverse.
The PM will use a Downing Street press conference tonight to outline a delay in the relaxation of restrictions in an attempt to push forward with the vaccination effort.
A government source told The Times Mr Johnson considers it the ‘final stretch’ to extend the protection of the jabs as far as possible before normality can return.
But he is expected to lift the limit of 30 people for weddings and permit more outdoor seated spaces at sporting events.
Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock signed off on the four-week delay, it was reported.
A senior UK government source told The Telegraph the message had always been ‘cautious but irreversible’, adding: ‘That has been our mantra throughout and that continues.
‘It would be far worse to have uncertainty and go backwards. It is better to be cautious and have certainty. It is one last heave. It is a straight race between the vaccine and the virus.’
Mr Johnson is facing a MPs’ revolt over the move to delay the final step of his lockdown-easing roadmap.
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said a delay to Freedom Day would be ‘devastating for business confidence, people’s livelihoods and wellbeing’.
He added: ‘Delaying June 21 will send a clear message to employers and workers that when Covid cases increase this (and every) autumn and winter, they cannot rely on the Government to keep our society open.
‘It would be catastrophic for many businesses currently on life support.’
Douglas McWilliams, of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the delay was ‘a kick in the teeth’ for sectors such as hospitality.
He said firms had spent ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ preparing for the relaxation of social distancing rules.