Boris Johnson is expected to announce today that the final stage of easing controls in England – pencilled in for June 21 – is to be put on hold for up to four weeks amid a surge in cases of the delta variant first identified in India.

It means rules ordering the wearing of face masks, limiting groups to six people indoors and 30 outdoors, and keeping nightclubs shut are set to remain in place.

The cap on weddings being attended by only 30 people is expected to be relaxed, but the exact details of what new rules would replace it were still being debated on Sunday night.

A four-week delay would push the reopening date back to July 19. 

Mr Johnson’s message to the nation at a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening is expected to be that sticking to the rules now is worth it to avoid a future lockdown. 

What will happen now?

Senior ministers, including Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, are understood to have signed off on the plans to delay June 21 after being briefed by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser.

Mr Johnson is expected to announce a four-week delay in the final step of reopening, taking the reopening date to July 19, with a review after two weeks.

However, there are fears the delay could ultimately last even longer if the third wave of Covid cases continues to soar.

June 21 poll

Why is lockdown easing being delayed?

Downing Street’s argument for the extension is that it buys the country more time to both monitor the delta variant – first found in India – and, crucially, deliver millions more doses of the vaccine.

Hopes for a full reopening on that date have been affected partly by the news that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs give only 33 per cent protection after one dose, compared with up to 80 per cent protection against previous variants.

The news of the delay comes as Public Health England (PHE) estimates that the Indian or delta strain is 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent or alpha variant, with cases doubling every four and a half days in some parts of England.

Figures published by PHE show that 42,323 cases of the Indian variant have been confirmed in the UK – an increase of 240 per cent from last week. 

The "R" rate is also at its highest since January – between 1.2 and 1.4 – with daily cases reaching 8,125, the highest number since February.

What will happen instead?

Face coverings, work from home advice and social distancing are all expected to remain, together with the "rule of six" and restrictions on numbers allowed in arenas, theatres and other venues. Nightclubs will remain closed.

The cap on weddings being attended by only 30 people is expected to be relaxed, but the exact details of what new rules would replace it were still being debated on Sunday night.

One concession confirmed by the Government was that Wimbledon would be allowed to open with a capacity of 50 per cent – up from 25 per cent – when the tennis tournament begins on June 28.  

What are the scientists saying?

The British Medical Association became the latest body to call for a delay after data released on Friday showed the ‘R’ rate at its highest since January – between 1.2 and 1.4 – with daily cases reaching 8,125, the highest number since February.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is also understood to have warned the Government that a third wave of Covid cases could exceed the first wave peak if the June 21 reopening were to go ahead as planned.

However, NHS leaders have said that scientific modelling has been crude and unreliable at predicting the pandemic, and they warned against using it to decide whether to release restrictions on June 21.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts were "sceptical" about the fitness of models to provide useful forecasts for the pandemic.

How does this affect businesses?

The news will come as a bitter blow to businesses that had geared up to reopen in full on June 21, with many hiring and training staff, bringing others off furlough and ordering supplies in order to offer customers a normal service.

Figures released by analysts at the Centre for Economics and Business Research predict the economy will suffer a hit of £55m a day if the four-week delay goes ahead.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: "The ongoing uncertainty around the roadmap is causing significant distress to hospitality businesses and operators.

"It is crucial that the Government commits to dropping the restrictions on June 21. Any delay in the roadmap would have a devastating effect on an already fragile sector."

Sarah Haywood, of the industry body UK Weddings Taskforce, said wedding businesses would "collapse" as the result of a delay because "we have reached the end of the runway".

She said more than 50,000 weddings were booked for the four weeks after June 21, as ministers had repeatedly reassured the public that restrictions would end on that date, adding: "In every single meeting with Government, they said they were on track for unrestricted reopening, and when we pressed them for a contingency plan they wouldn’t discuss it."

Government support for affected businesses remains in place until September.

What is currently allowed?

Most of the legal restrictions on meeting outdoors were dropped on May 17 after the Government pushed ahead with Step 3 of Mr Johnson’s roadmap.

People are allowed to meet indoors too, but the rule of six or two households still applies.

Indoor dining in restaurants is already permitted and customers are no longer required to purchase substantial meals with alcoholic drinks, nor to stick to a curfew.

Gyms have reopened and certain larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues have resumed.

Up to 30 people are able to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals.

When is the next lockdown announcement?

The Cabinet’s Covid Operations committee met on Sunday evening to make a final decision about any easements that can go ahead.

The decision will be rubber-stamped by the Cabinet on Monday morning and announced by Mr Johnson this evening.

The decision is expected to be reviewed two weeks into the extension.

What is permitted in the other UK nations?

In Wales, from June 7 groups of up to 30 people were allowed meet outdoors, including in private gardens, while up to three households can meet indoors.

Regulated events are allowed outdoors with up to 10,000 people seated or up to 4,000 people standing – subject to risk assessment.

Plans to ease lockdown restrictions in much of Scotland have been paused, but restrictions were reduced in Glasgow, which had been kept in Level 3 restrictions due to a spike in cases.  

Restaurants, cafes, bars and other hospitality venues in Northern Ireland can operate indoors, with six people allowed to sit together from unlimited households with table service only.