BORIS Johnson may adopt a “mix and match approach” to ending lockdown on June 21 by “partially lifting” restrictions, it’s reported.
The Prime Minister is set to announce on Monday if England’s Step 4 to ease restrictions can go ahead on “Freedom Day”, currently pencilled in for June 21.
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The government is weighing up the move amid fears over the spread of the Indian – or Delta – variant of Covid.
Cases in the UK today rose by 7,540 in the highest leap in daily infections since February.
Earlier, Mr Johnson gave his biggest hint yet that the June 21 date could be delayed.
A senior government official told the Financial Times that fears about the new variant meant a “mix-and-match approach is probably on the cards”.
And a cabinet minister told the paper officials are “trying to find a solution that pleases the PM’s instincts” to reopen the country.
The minister said it would be “easy” to allow larger weddings if regualtions were tweaked, but nightclubs weren’t likely to reopen “for a while”.
Meanwhile, another senior government official said a hybrid plan to ending restrictions was under consideration, but said it would be “very complicated” to implement.
The official said: “What would you choose? Deciding the public health benefits would be difficult.”
Earlier, the PM pointed to rising cases, as well as an increase in hospitalisations, in parts of the country – and refused to commit to unlocking in two weeks.
It is the first time in weeks he hasn’t said there remains “nothing in the data” that risks derailing the roadmap.
Speaking as he touched down in Cornwall for the G7 today, the PM said: “On Monday… we’ll have a look at where we are.
“I think what everybody can see very clearly is that cases are going up, and in some cases hospitalisations are going up.
We need to assess is the extent to which the vaccine rollout has built up protection in the population in order for us to go ahead to the next stage
“What we need to assess is the extent to which the vaccine rollout, which has been phenomenal, has built up protection in the population in order for us to go ahead to the next stage. And so that’s what we’ll be looking at.”
But in a chink of hope he said there were strong arguments on both sides of the unlocking debate.
Another minister today suggested June 21 might be delayed today – saying people should “wait until you’ve heard from the PM” before making more plans.
Robert Jenrick was grilled over whether the unlocking should go ahead as planned later this month – but said it was still too early to say for sure.
He was asked if the 30 person limit on weddings and gatherings would be lifted in time, as many are worried that there may be a two week delay to full freedom.
Ministers are worried about the spread of the Indian variant and rising cases, which is seeing more people go into hospital too.
Boris Johnson is due to make an announcement on Monday on whether to ditch all the Covid rules from June 21, or to keep some for longer to keep Covid cases under control.
Ministers have repeatedly stressed it’s too early to make a decision, but they will keep all options on the table.
Mr Jenrick said this morning: “The PM is reviewing the data and more data is coming in, which is very important.
“It’s a finely balanced decision and we need to see that data of cases, which are clearly rising, and the link to hospitalisations and ultimately deaths.
“What I do think is important is we don’t throw away the gains we’ve made, so we are going to take a cautious approach.
“But if we can proceed with that reopening on June 21 then all of us would love to see that for our own lives and the livelihoods that depend on that further reopening.”
He added on whether rules on weddings would be relaxed: “I wouldn’t make plans until you’ve heard from the PM, if that’s important to you. But weddings can go ahead now, just with a maximum of 30 guests.
“We have always said that the roadmap is subject to review of the data. That is what is happening right now, so whether it is weddings or international travel or any of these other important topics, you always have to wait until the judgement is made on the basis of the data at the decision point.”
All Covid rules were expected to be binned on June 21 – including social distancing, masks, work from home advice, and meeting in groups.
At the moment people still have to stay apart from those they don’t live with, and wear masks in shops and public transport.
People can meet in groups of up to 30 outside, and just six inside to stop the spread of the virus.
The Sun revealed last week Freedom Day could be delayed by a fortnight under plans being looked at.
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It has also been suggested a delay of a month may be needed to coincide with the start of the school summer holidays.
The India mutation is now the dominant one in Britain, with 6,000 new cases recorded yesterday.
But as the vaccination programme has rolled on, fewer people are landing in hospital.