June 21 was due to mark the end of Covid-19 measures in England – a date many had been looking forward to since the roadmap was first announced in February.
But lockdown restrictions will continue until July 19 at least, after the Government won the vote to delay of the final stage of England’s roadmap to control the spread of the Delta variant.
However, a report in The Times has stated that all remaining coronavirus restrictions, including mask wearing and social distancing, will end on this date and rules will be replaced with ‘personal responsibility’.
It comes as Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said the Government is "on track" for the easing of restrictions later in July, but acknowledged that opening up travel abroad is "more difficult".
The Health Secretary told Sky News on June 22 that due to the UK’s successful vaccination rollout, which has seen 78.4 per cent of the population receive a first dose to date, the country is "on track to deliver Step 4 – the further opening.
Thousands flocked to stadiums across the UK – which became vaccination hubs over the weekend of June 19 – in a bid to beat the Delta variant.
Mr Hancock said that ministers are also "working on" plans for quarantine-free travel for fully-vaccinated Britons, and urged people to download and use the NHS app, separate from the Track and Trace app, in order to show their vaccination status and recent Covid-19 tests.
Although unable to confirm whether the guidance would be in place by August, he said "we’ll get there when it’s safe to do so" but added "it’s something I want to see.
But Boris Johnson has warned summer travel will be filled with “hassle and delays” as he played down the prospect of freedoms for the vaccinated.
He also poured cold water on the prospect of easing the remaining coronavirus rules early, on July 5, refused to rule out future lockdowns and warned the nation should brace for a “rough winter”.
It came as Public Health England’s senior Covid official warned that cases of the Indian or Delta variant were "still rising quite fast" in areas of the North-East and London.
The variant is now the dominant strain in the UK and the latest scientific analysis suggests the variant is between 40 per cent and 80 per cent more transmissible than other Covid strains.
Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s strategic response director, also said a further lockdown may be needed this winter to stop hospitals becoming overwhelmed.
However, other scientists have said the UK could open up "sooner rather than later" thanks to the huge numbers of people being vaccinated. More than one million jabs were booked in under 48 hours after rollout was opened up to all adults in England on June 18, according to the NHS.
The Government hopes that the extension of lockdown measures will allow more time for people to receive first and second doses of the vaccine to ensure protection against the virus.
Is the UK on track to hit vaccination targets?
As a result of the extension of lockdown measures, social distancing, mask wearing and limits on numbers for sports events, theatres and cinemas will remain in place for now, nightclubs will stay shut, and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible.
Mr Hancock had also previously confirmed on June 21 plans to scrap the requirement for people who have had two Covid-19 jabs and come into contact with an infected person to isolate for 10 days.
Under the plan to revise quarantine restrictions, the 10-day isolation period could be axed in favour of daily lateral flow tests.
But there are some exemptions, with the cap on wedding guests no longer applying. Instead, individual venues will have their own Covid-secure capacity limits.
Guidance issued by the Government for weddings of more than 30 people puts the onus on the hosts, who “may be the couple”, to ensure they are Covid-compliant.
The new rules require organisers to complete a risk assessment form before a marriage takes place, with the threat of £10,000 fines if guests break social distancing rules.
Care home residents who leave a site will also not have to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, a change some campaigners have been seeking.
It comes as the Covid reproduction ‘R’ number has risen to 1.4, but vaccinating younger people should slow down the exponential rise in cases, scientists believe.
As per the rest of the roadmap journey, an update will take place two weeks into the four-week delay, to see whether the Covid situation has improved. However, Downing Street officials said it was "unlikely" the plan would change then.
Number 10 sources said Mr Johnson was "confident" that only a four-week delay will be needed, although doubts remain given the sharp rises in Covid cases and hospitalisations, with the PM calling July 19 a "terminus" and not giving a ‘cast iron guarantee’ that lockdown measures will end on this date.
Cases would reach the January peak next month
The decision was taken after scientific modelling for the Government suggested a third wave of cases could see hospitalisations hit the peak seen in the first wave.
But it has emerged that modelling used by the Government to push back the June 21 reopening was based on out-of-date estimates of vaccine effectiveness, which assumed far fewer people protected by the jabs.
Downing Street is arguing that the four-week delay allows the Government to vaccinate millions more people, with the rollout strategy tweaked in an attempt to maximise protection.
The target for offering the first Covid vaccine dose has been brought forward from the end of July to July 19, meaning all adults should be offered at least one jab by the new final reopening date.
How many more could we vaccinated with the delay to June 21?
In the press conference which delayed the end of lockdown, no changes to the travel rules were announced. A review of the Covid borders rules is due later this month, with checks on whether new countries can be added to the green list – for which no quarantine on return to the UK is required – happening every three weeks.
But Prime Minister said on June 21 Britons faced a “difficult year for travel” regardless of whether he pressed ahead with plans to scrap travel quarantine rules for double-jabbed Britons.
Ministers on the Cabinet’s Covid-O committee are expected to meet on June 24 to approve the vaccination travel plans and decide whether to expand the quarantine-free green list.
Meanwhile, the Treasury is not announcing any new financial support despite the four-week delay, to the frustration of business industry leaders who have demanded extra help.
From next month the Government will cover only 70 per cent of wages of furloughed workers instead of 80 per cent, with businesses having to pick up the extra 10 per cent.
Hospitality and leisure companies will also have to start paying a third of their business rates bills from the start of July, ending more than a year of their rates being waived.
A Treasury source argued that more than £1 billion of grants are still available for companies – especially nightclubs, which cannot open – affected by the pandemic from local authorities. "We need to keep a balance in order to ensure we can recover strongly," the source said.