BORIS Johnson is set to delay lockdown lifting “freedom day” to July 19 after cases of the mutant Indian strain exploded by 240 per cent in just a week, The Sun can reveal.
Under plans drawn up to be announced on Monday, a two-week review will be included meaning Covid restrictions could be dropped on July 5 if hospitalisations stay down.
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But multiple sources told the Sun the chances of lifting restrictions as planned on June 21 were close to zero – in a massive blow to Wembley hosting of the Euros.
Group games will have a 25 per cent stadium cap – 22,500 fans – with that hopefully rising to around 45,000 for the Semis and the July 11 Final.
It had been hoped Wembley could be full of fully jabbed or tested fans by then, but the delay to the last phase of the roadmap has scotched that.
Running the big matches as pilots for Covid certification trials means the capacity numbers can be stretched, but there will still be thousands of empty seats.
It comes as:
- Brits must be "really careful" not to "squander hard-fought gains", a minister has warned
- The UK economy grew 2.3 per cent in April as lockdown restrictions eased
- Theresa May blasts ‘chaotic and incomprehensible’ holidays ban despite world-beating vaccine rollout
- Matt Hancock admitted the first lockdown was delayed – despite warnings one million might die
- The Indian – or Delta – strain is up to 60 per cent more infectious, experts say
- Cases passed 8,000 today with cases of the Indian variant tripling in a week
Whitehall sources involved in planning for the delay, point to the fact that all UK adults will have been offered at least one jab by the end of July, with short delay considered far better than having to u-turn and reintroduce restrictions.
One source said: “The last thing they need is a hokey cokey of in out, in out of restrictions.
“No one wants to go backwards, and we have to get this right first go.”
The delay will be used to work out if the vaccine rollout really means rising cases numbers do not spark a surge in hospitalisations – and it will allow millions more people to be double jabbed.
ROADMAP: HOW IT WILL UNFOLD
June 14 – Boris Johnson will address nation and lay out his plan to delay June 21
June 21 – Original date set for 'Freedom Day' now likely to be delayed
July 5 – Boris Johnson will review and assess the data as part of his 'two-week break clause'. Restrictions could be eased partially or fully if data is positive
July 19 – Proposed new 'Freedom Day' when PM hopes to lift all restrictions across England
But Downing Street were spooked after cases of the Indian variant rocketed last week.
Public Health England analysis shows infections have risen to 42,323 from 12,431 last week, a jump of 240 per cent.
Brits are two-thirds more likely to catch the Indian variant from close contacts – with cases more than tripling in 11 days.
Doubling rates for Delta – or Indian variant – infections were as high as 4.5 days in some parts of England. And 96 per cent of all cases are now due to the new strain.
Experts found household members are 64 per cent more likely to be infected with the bug compared to the Alpha or Kent strain.
And worrying research suggests the latest variant more than doubles risk of hospitalisation.
However, patient numbers have grown at a much slower pace than cases – suggesting the vaccines are currently working to save lives.
Just six per cent of all Delta variant infections were in people who had both jabs.
More than half of the 42 deaths due to the mutation were in unvaccinated Brits.
Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “With numbers of Delta variant cases on the rise across the country, vaccination is our best defence.
“If you are eligible, we urge you to come forward and be vaccinated.
Remember that two doses provide significantly more protection than a single dose.
In a very big public hint that a delay was coming, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi warned against "squandering those hard fought gains" made by the jabs by lifting the last of the restrictions too soon.
Mr Johnson is set to address the nation on Monday evening after making his final decision.
No10 publicly insist that no final decision has been made, but privately key figures say any chance of going ahead in two weeks time are “hanging by a very, very, very thin thread.”
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