It comes as government advisor say going ahead with planned timeline would be ‘foolish’ and ‘hard to justify’
Ministers have reportedy drafted plans to delay the final phase of the lifting of England’s lockdown by two weeks, amid warnings from expects it would be “a major risk” to end all restrictions on 21 June as planned.
Whitehall is said to have earmarked 5 July as the new so-called “freedom day,” after the government admitted this week Boris Johnson’s roadmap could be “blown off track” by rising infections.
Under the roadmap, all remaining Covid-19 restrictions – including legal limits on social contact, nightclub closures and restrictions on large events – are planned to be removed on 21 June.
According to The Telegraph, a two-week delay to this final step will be used to accelerate second jabs for over-40s, moving from a 12 to eight-week gap between doses, following the strategy already in place for over-50s.
Contingency plans are being drawn up for a possible delay, which could move the date of the full lifting of restrictions to 5 July, the Financial Times reported.
One Whitehall insider told the newspaper there was a growing sense a “smallish delay” could be likely.
Multiple reports have also suggested plans to lift restrictions could be scaled down, with social distancing and the wearing of face coverings set to continue amid concerns the Delta variant is fuelling a surge in cases.
Social distancing in pubs and restaurants and guidance telling people to work from home where possible could remain after 21 June under plans being considered, the i reported.
The newspaper also reported a delay would likely see mask wearing and social distancing on public transport remain in place, as well as limits on audiences in theatres and cinemas.
Experts have called for plans for the full lifting of restrictions to be pushed back amid the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant.
Independent Sage said this was needed to help avoid another full lockdown in the autumn.
On Saturday, Professor Stephen Reicher, an expert on an advisory group to the government, said it was clear that it would be “foolish” and a “major risk” to go ahead with the 21 June reopening,
Earlier that day, Dr Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist and government scientific advisor, said the UK faced a different battle in the face of the dominance of the Delta variant, meaning it could be “hard to justify” easing further restrictions this month.
He described the current graph of infections as “U-shaped”, with the vaccines having worked to quell infections from the Kent variant, but the Indian variant is now causing a fresh rise in cases.
According to the latest Public Health England data, the number of cases of this variant – first detected in India – rose by more than 5,400 since last week to surpass 12,430.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a leading epidemiologist, said data suggests the Delta variant could be 60 per cent more transmissible than previously dominant variants, while PHE said it may lead to greater risk of hospitalisation compared to the UK’s Alpha variant.
No 10 sources have said suggestions of a delay to the road map were “speculation”.
Earlier this week, the prime minister said the full lifting of restrictions was still on track to go ahead on 21 June, saying he “can see nothing in the data at the moment” that means it cannot go ahead as planned.
However, he admitted the latest data was “ambiguous”.
Also this week, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said there was nothing in the data to “say we are definitively off-track” when asked whether the government was considering keeping mask-wearing and guidance on working from home in place after 21 June.
“It is too early to make a decision about 21 June — step 4 in the roadmap,” he said.
The health secretary said the government will set out the next step on 14 June.
Additional reporting by Press Association