Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed there will be no decision on the final lockdown easing step until 14 June, one week prior to the provisional date of 21 June.
Step four of the Government's roadmap includes removing all legal limits on social contact and would see table service in pubs abolished and nightclubs allowed to reopen after more than a year closed.
Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Hancock said: “We’ve always known one of the things that has the potential to knock us off track would be a new variant.
"That’s why we made the presence of a new variant that could do that one of our four tests when we set out the roadmap, which are the steps we must pass before going down each step of the roadmap.”
Early evidence suggested the B.1.617.2 variant, known as the Indian variant, was more transmissible than the Kent variant of the virus. There were 2,967 cases known of this variant in the UK as of yesterday (Wednesday 20 May).
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “increasing confidence” in the vaccine’s efficacy against the variant.
Surge testing and increased vaccinations are now taking place in Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Kirklees, North Tyneside and Hounslow alongside Blackburn and Bolton.
Element of doubt
UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls called for a continuation of support for businesses should changes be made to the roadmap out of lockdown.
“There is now an element of doubt surrounding the dropping of restrictions on 21 June, the situation will clearly be closely monitored but should the roadmap timings slip, it is vital financial supports are forthcoming, and that business rates are postponed until October.
"Businesses need a swift, publicly stated commitment that such supports would be in place in the event of a delay to step four, to give venues some reassurance as they look toward the challenges of viable trading.”
The British Beer & Pub Association urged the Government to stick to the original roadmap so pubs can return to making a profit from 21 June.
A BBPA spokesperson said: “The current speculation on changes to the roadmap puts pubs in limbo, serving only to prolong the uncertainty our sector has faced now for more than 12 months.
"As soon as the Government has clarity on the impact of the Indian variant and the actions it may take, it must inform the sector.
"We urge Government to do everything it can to keep the roadmap on track so pubs can properly start their recovery from 21 June.”
Chief executive of Admiral Taverns, Chris Jowsey, has been one of the pub bosses to call on the Prime Minister to stick to the roadmap this week.
“Pubs have played a vital role in their communities over the past year, even when closed, bringing people together during difficult times,” Jowsey said. “If all restrictions aren’t lifted as planned, we risk more pubs being closed for good."
He added: "Whilst the health and safety of the public is the upmost priority, community pubs have spent thousands of pounds ensuring they can operate safely and have continued to do so when allowed.
“Not lifting all restrictions will have a detrimental effect on an industry that has already been unfairly targeted throughout the pandemic."