ENGLAND’S so-called “freedom day” has been postponed as cases of the Delta variant cause concern across the UK.

The Prime Minister has announced that the road map easing earmarked for June 21 will be delayed by four weeks until July 19. He left open the option of ending restrictions on July 5 if the data proves drastically better than expected but conceded this is “unlikely”.

The announcement means that limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas will remain in place, nightclubs will stay closed and people will be encouraged to keep up social distancing and working from home.

However, weddings will be allowed to go ahead with more than 30 guests, as well as wakes, with limits set based on social distancing requirements by venues. The target to vaccinate all adults will be accelerated, with 23 and 24-year-olds to be invited to be vaccinated from tomorrow, while second jabs for those over 40 will also be accelerated.

“It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves,” Boris Johnson said.

“But now is the time to ease off the accelerator, because by being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”

The move follows warnings from scientists that the rapid spread of the Delta variant first identified in India risks a “substantial” third wave if it is allowed to spread unchecked.

The Delta variant of Covid-19, first identified in India, is now responsible for up to 96 per cent of new cases – with a 60 per cent increased risk of household transmission compared with the Alpha variant, which originated in Kent last year.

And while the vaccine rollout is estimated to have already averted more than 14,000 deaths in older people, just under half of all adults in England are not yet fully vaccinated.

As previously reported by the Gazette, Public Health England figures published on Friday (June 11) revealed 37 cases of the Delta variant have been recorded in Basingstoke and Deane.

Coronavirus hotspots are now starting to appear across the borough with Brighton Hill, Bramley, Sherfield and the Sherbornes all recording a rolling rate significantly higher than the UK average.

Brighton Hill is the worst affected area in Basingstoke with cases up by 650 per cent after 15 people contracted the virus in the seven days to June 9 - giving the area a rolling rate of 207.6 cases per 100,000 people.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest 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.

Health minister Edward Argar said that if the June 21 lockdown easing was delayed for one month, another 10 million second coronavirus vaccine doses could be given across the UK.

He told Sky News that while the number of people in hospital has been “creeping up a bit”, vaccination meant “we are seeing that severing of the link between the disease and hospitalisations and death.”

Mr Argar added: “I think that on that basis, everyone will recognise that there comes a point where we do have to live with this disease and recognise that you cannot go for a zero Covid approach, you have to live with it, and vaccination is the key to that.

“So I think once we have got those second doses in people’s arms, once we have got that level of protection up to around that 81 per cent, then I think people will be more comfortable with it.”

The postponing of lockdown has been met with fury by some Tory MPs, with a vote this month expected to lead to a possible Conservative backbench rebellion.

Conservative MP Peter Bone said a delay to the lifting of restrictions should not happen “without really good reason” and that currently he “can’t see the evidence why we should be postponing our freedom”.

He said there should only be restrictions “if there is a very clear danger to society”.