The final lifting of lockdown restrictions will not go ahead as hoped on June 21, the Prime Minister has confirmed.
Speaking at a press conference this evening, Boris Johnson confirmed that stage 4 of the roadmap out of restrictions will be delayed by for four more weeks - until Monday July 19.
He said this was because two of the four tests the government had said must be met have not been.
READ MORE:Government warning to 'minimise travel' in and out of Liverpool City Region
These are the tests on variants changing the risks associated with the pandemic and the risk of a “surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.
However, while most current restrictions will remain in place, a limit on the number of guests at weddings, wakes and other commemorative events will be lifted.
Speculation has mounted in recent days that the Prime Minister would make the call to delay, with the Delta variant of the disease now spreading rapidly around the country.
Earlier today it was announced that the Liverpool City Region has been offered a package of support and people are urged to minimise travel as rates of the variant soar here.
Confirming the delay this evening, Mr Johnson said there will be a review of the situation on June 28 and if the data is significantly better at that stage, we could see an easing of restrictions earlier - although this is probably unlikely.
The government has also said there is no guarantee that stage four of the unlocking will take place on July 19, but a spokesman for the Prime Minister earlier said that Mr Johnson is confident that we will not need any more than a four-week delay.
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The PM's spokesman said the extension means “thousands more deaths can be prevented” as it gives time to get more people jabbed.
The spokesman said: “Vaccine effectiveness, especially after two doses, means thousands more deaths can be prevented if more people are jabbed.
“As the Chief Medical Officer has said, at some stage we are going to have to live with this virus as we do with flu.
“But when we have effective vaccines and a variant that needs two doses for maximum protection, it is right to allow more time to save lives.”
While restrictions will remain the same for most areas, there will be a change for weddings, wakes and care homes.
The 30-person limit on weddings will be removed in England from June 21, despite step four being delayed.
That means there will be no numerical limit on either receptions or ceremonies - either indoors or outdoors.
Instead, capacity limits will be the highest number of people venues can accommodate while still being Covid-secure.
This is the approach that is already taken to funerals.
The 30-person limit will also be lifted on weddings outdoors on private land, including in gardens. There will be a risk assessment which organisers need to fill out.
It will mean weddings with hundreds of people can go ahead after months of uncertainty.
But other restrictions on weddings - including the ban on most singing and dancing, and guests having to wear masks at certain points - will remain in place until step four.
People at an indoor venue will need to be on tables of no more than six people. Indoor venues must shut off their dance floors - apart from for the “first dance”.
Marquees on private land need to have two sides open to qualify as 'outdoors'.
The 30-person limit on wakes and other commemorative events will also be lifted from June 21 and rules around visits outside care homes will be relaxed.
There will be no changes to indoor hospitality rules or to allow large events to go ahead without social distancing at this stage and people will continue to be advised to work from home where possible during the delay period.
Scientists have suggested that England could suffer a wave of hospital cases as bas as the first wave last March, if lockdown was lifted altogether on June 21.
Modelling by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) - a SAGE subgroup - shows hospitalisations would reach around the peak of the first wave if lockdown was eased.
The government is now bringing forward its target of offering a first vaccine to all over 18-year-olds from July 31 to July 19 in a bid to beat off the Delta variant.
And ministers have set a new target of offering all eligible over 40s a second jab by the same date, with the dose interval for this age group now shortened to 8 weeks instead of 12.