Shoppers on London’s Oxford Street this week (Image: PA)
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Boris Johnson pledged in his "cautious but irreversible" roadmap out of Covid-19 lockdown that all restrictions would be lifted June 21.
England's much longed-for 'Freedom Day' would have meant all legal limits on social contact – including face masks – were finally scrapped, and large events and nightclubs opened.
But after cases of the highly-transmissible Delta variant sparked fears of a third wave, the government's plans have once again been thrown into chaos.
Ministers meet tomorrow to look at the data before making an expected announcement on Monday on whether it is safe to push ahead.
Here's a run-down of what lockdown options the Prime Minister has and how he will decide what to do.
Boris Johnson will make the all-important decision on Sunday and announce his verdict on Monday
Why are ministers worried about the Delta variant?
Cases of the Delta strain have more than doubled in a week, Public Health England has said.
The strain now accounts for more than 90% of new Covid cases across the country, after a further 29,892 infections were recorded in the seven days up to June 9 – up from 12,431 the week before.
The data also suggests the Delta variant has a 60% increased chance of spreading compared to the Alpha strain, first detected in Kent.
Labour Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has called the figures "deeply worrying" and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has admitted England must be “really careful” about June 21.
Boris Johnson welcomes G7 leaders in rambling speech after elbow-bumps on the beach
Delta variant cases surge as infections more than double in week amid June 21 delay fears
How will ministers decide on whether to delay 'Freedom Day'?
Four key tests must be met before ministers ease any more restrictions:
Is the vaccine programme on course?
Are vaccines breaking the links between infections, hospital admissions and deaths?
Do infection rates risk a surge in hospital admissions which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS?
Are the risks fundamentally changed by new strains?
So, what are the lockdown options?
Boris Johnson could simply press ahead with the June 21 easing of all restrictions planned for step four.
- Removing the 30-person limit on weddings
- Reopening nightclubs
- Removing social distancing in venues like pubs and theatres
- Axing the six-person limit on indoor gatherings.
But it seems increasingly unlikely that all these changes will go ahead at once, on time.
Reports have said the PM is eyeing a delay of up to four weeks to July 19, with a two-week review that would allow for restrictions to be dropped on July 5 if hospitalisations stay low.
However, Cabinet sources told the Daily Mail that 'Freedom Day' on June 21 was "not looking great", and a four-week delay was now "most likely".
Social distancing in pubs and restaurants would be lifted under the final stage of the roadmap
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Alternatively, the government could take a "mix and match" approach to lifting curbs, such as allowing unlimited numbers of people at weddings but keep face masks mandatory beyond June 21.
This was warned of way back in February's roadmap, which said: "Some measures may be required even after all adults have been offered a vaccine."
What about vaccine passports?
Ministers had said vaccine passports – not to be confused with those needed for international travel – which allow people to prove they have been jabbed could see curbs lifted safely.
The idea was that pub landlords or stewards at large events could insist on seeing them before letting people in.
But amid fears the certificates will hit civil liberties and potentially see workers and punters discriminated against, they are likely to be ruled out as part of the review.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove recently cast doubt on the plan, telling MPs the "judgement is finely balanced" and it was wrong to assume ministers will push ahead "come hell or high water".
"We've been looking at it pragmatically, to see if it can add value, and if not, then we would not press ahead with it," he said.
Separately, Labour MPs and a slew of Tory backbenchers have underlined they will fight domestic vaccine passports in the Commons.