Soaring Covid cases may push back ‘Freedom Day’
Mask wearing may continue for some time (pic: Terry Murden)
Rising Covid-19 cases could see a two-week delay to the planned easing of restrictions.
England is due to lift lockdown on 21 June and Scotland on 28 June, but the number of people with Covid-19 has shot up by 75%.
There is also growing speculation that social distancing and the wearing of face coverings will continue amid concerns the Indian variant is fuelling a surge in cases.
The move comes as millions of people in Scotland have moved into lower restriction levels despite an overall rise in coronavirus cases being identified.
Many areas in the north and south of mainland Scotland moved from level two to level one at midnight.
Glasgow’s move to level two allows people to meet in each other’s homes for the first time in nine months and drink alcohol in pubs and restaurants.
Level zero restrictions apply to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
However, 13 council areas with a combined population of 2.3 million people in the central belt of the country, including Edinburgh, would stay in level two rather than moving down to level one as had been planned.
The whole country had been due to move to level zero on 28 June but the prevalence of the Delta variant, first detected in India, may push the date back.
The UK on Friday recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases – 6,238 – since late March, according to official figures.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggested the number of people who had the virus in England has increased by around three quarters in a week, taking it to its highest tally since mid-April, with the R value between 1 and 1.2.
According to the Telegraph, a two-week delay to the final stage of Boris Johnson’s road map will be used to accelerate second jabs for over-40s, moving from a 12 to eight-week gap between doses, echoing the practise that is already in place for over-50s.
Those aged over 25 will also be offered their first doses from next week, the newspaper said.
Pushing back by a fortnight the plans to lift all restrictions in order to allow more adults to be fully vaccinated could see so-called “freedom day” delayed until 5 July.
The Government may also backtrack on encouraging a return to the workplace, continue with the guidance to work from home if possible, and the policy of mask wearing and social distancing on public transport.
The newspaper also said social distancing in bars and restaurants is likely to remain, along with limits on audiences in theatres and cinemas.
On Thursday events organiser Geoff Ellis called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to set a date for easing restrictions to allow operators to at least make plans.
Kate Nicholls: ‘long term viability’
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed he is considering keeping social distancing restrictions in place for the rest of 2021, calling the two-metre measure “one of the strongest defences that we have” against the virus.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said keeping social distancing in place would threaten the viability of the sector.
“It means that those businesses continue to operate at a loss and threatens the long term viability of businesses, jobs and the recovery,” she said.
No 10 sources said reports of a delay to the road map was “speculation”.