The Prime Minister is set to confirm that big weddings will be permitted to take place from June 21, it emerged today.
Newlyweds in England are currently only able to share their big day with up to 30 guests following the latest relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on May 17.
But Boris Johnson yesterday hinted that the June 21 ‘freedom day’ will go ahead as planned, saying he does not see ‘anything’ in Covid data that would prevent his roadmap from going ahead.
The long-awaited fourth step will see attendance restrictions scrapped at weddings and other large-scale events, which will go ahead as planned from June 21.
Downing Street insiders told the Daily Telegraph they were confident large numbers would be permitted to attend weddings from next month.
The Prime Minister (above) is set to confirm that big weddings will be permitted to take place from June 21, it emerged today
Newlyweds in England are currently only able to share their big day with up to 30 guests following the latest relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on May 17. Pictured: Stock image
It comes after the success of several large-scale pilot events, which saw only a handful of people test positive for Covid out of 58,000 attendees.
A source said: ‘There’s increasing confidence that vaccines are working against all variants and the data doesn’t seem to be changing too drastically in terms of case numbers and hospitalisations.
‘As long as there are no significant changes over the next few days, there is cautious optimism.’
Mr Johnson yesterday said details for the final relaxation of rules will be unveiled by the end of the month – earlier than had been feared after the Indian strain started to fuel cases in the UK.
The Prime Minister is expected provide an update into the potential relaxation of social distancing rules, including the ‘one metre plus’ and face mask regulations.
Speaking in Portsmouth, he said: ‘I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we’re going to have to deviate from the road map – obviously we must remain cautious but I’m seeing nothing that makes me think we have to deviate.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits in the cockpit of an Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II during a visit to HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier
While the Indian variant is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country, 60 per cent of local authorities in England have yet to record a case (shown in grey). But it is likely the variant has spread even further than the map suggests because the data only goes up to May 8. Experts have said they expect it to overtake the Kent strain and become dominant in the coming weeks and months
‘But on June 21 and vaccine certification – or Covid status certification I should say – people should bear in mind that I don’t see any prospect of certificates to go into pubs or anything else.’
Pressed on whether the public will continue to be asked to wear masks, Mr Johnson replied: ‘We will let people know as much as we possibly can by the end of the month about weddings, for instance.
‘All the details we’ll try and let people know by the end of the month about exactly where we think we’ll be on June 21, Step 4.’
It comes as there were more conflicting signals about the Indian variant on Friday as Government experts estimated England’s Covid outbreak may be on the rise – despite separate data suggesting the nation’s outbreak is flat.
No10’s top scientists estimated the R rate — which measures the spread of the virus — is now between 0.9 and 1.1, up from the lower estimate of 0.8 last week.
Random swabbing by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found almost 50,000 people were infected with the virus on any day last week, or the equivalent of one in every 1,110 people.
The estimate is up by 20 per cent on the previous seven-day spell.
It comes after the success of several large-scale pilot events, which saw only a handful of people test positive for Covid out of 58,000 attendees. Pictured: Stock image
Positive test figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute – which cover only lab-analysed cases in the two weeks between April 25 and May 8 – reveal the mutant Indian strain made up 50 per cent or more of all samples in 23 parts of the country by last week. Bolton and Blackburn in the North West remain the worst-hit areas with almost 600 cases between them and the variant making up 81 per cent of infections
The national body, whose estimates are watched closely by ministers, warned it was starting to see a ‘potential increase’.
But its head of analytics for the Covid infection survey Sarah Crofts said ‘rates remain low and it is too soon to say if this is the start of a trend’.
The figures came after two separate datasets on Thursday suggested the opposite trend, allaying fears the Indian variant was spiralling out of control.
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report found coronavirus cases had dropped in every region except the North West and in every age group except 5 to 9-year-olds.
Covid cases are only surging in three of 23 hotspots for the Indian variant — Bolton, Blackburn and Bedford — but are remaining flat in others and even falling in two — Sefton and South Northamptonshire.
Cases of a coronavirus variant first detected in India are rising in the UK, potentially threatening the lockdown-easing roadmap
WHAT DOES THE DATA SHOW ON ENGLAND’S COVID OUTBREAK?
Official statistics have delivered a mixed picture on England’s Covid outbreak this week. Some say it remains flat, but others suggest cases are rising.
Which datasets say cases are staying flat?
Public Health England suggested the Covid outbreak was flat-lining yesterday in its weekly surveillance report.
They said cases were dipping in every region except the North West, which is struggling against an outbreak of the Indian variant.
As many as 95 of 149 local authorities saw a drop in their cases, they added.
PHE’s data is based on national surveillance data on how many people are testing positive for the virus. This can’t account for asymptomatic cases — thought to make up a third of all cases — and people who don’t want to get tested for fear of having to self-isolate.
King’s College London experts also suggested Covid cases were flat, with 2,700 people being struck down with symptoms of Covid every day, which was no change on the previous week’s estimate.
Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads the study, said their data suggested the Indian variant wouldn’t lead to a slowdown in lockdown easings or overwhelm the NHS.
Their data relies on daily reports from almost a million Britons saying whether they are feeling unwell, what symptoms they are suffering, and if they have tested positive for Covid. But it can only pick up symptomatic cases and misses those that trigger no warning signs.
Which datasets say cases are rising?
Office for National Statistics random swabbing hinted that cases may have risen by 20 per cent last week after it estimated there were 49,000 people infected with Covid over any day last week. For comparison, they said there were 40,800 infections in the previous week.
Statisticians warned they may be seeing a ‘potential rise’. But its head of analytics Sarah Crofts said ‘rates remain low and it is too soon to say if this is the start of a trend’.
The ONS study is seen as the gold-standard for watching the outbreak and is closely followed by ministers. This is because it relies on random swabbing of tens of thousands of Britons every week, meaning it can catch asymptomatic cases and those in individuals who do not want to get tested for fear of having to self-isolate.
SAGE scientists calculating the R-rate have also suggested Covid infections could be rising in England.
They say the rate is now between 0.9 and 1.1, up from the estimated 0.8 to 1.1 last week.
But the top experts warn the R rate is a lagging indicator and can only show the picture of the spread of the virus from around three weeks ago. The R rate is no longer at the heart of the Government’s Covid response because of the huge vaccination roll-out, and it will inevitably spike when restrictions are eased over the coming months.
Test and Trace data showed Covid cases were up by 12 per cent compared to the same time last week.
There were 15,202 Covid cases transferred to contact tracers last week, official data revealed, compared to 14,435 in the previous seven-day period.
Department of Health figures on Covid cases in the country also show they may have started to rise.
The latest figures show 2,303 infections were recorded today, up a quarter compared to last Friday.
And separate analysis from King’s College London found 2,270 Brits were developing Covid symptoms last week, barely a change from the previous seven-day spell.
But scientific advisers yesterday warned the latest coronavirus mutation may already be the dominant Covid strain in the UK after growing ‘exponentially’ since March.
Documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said the highly infectious B.1.617.2 strain likely made up the ‘majority’ of the UK’s infections by mid-May.
The SPI-M subgroup modelled the variant’s spread on May 12 based on how rapidly it spiralled last month, and forecast that it would account for more than 50 per cent of cases by the middle of the month.
Its finding suggests the official number of cases reported by Public Health England is an underestimate and says the variant is quickly replacing the current dominant Kent version, which triggered the second wave.
In a separate paper published yesterday, but submitted to ministers on May 11, SAGE warned cases of the Indian variant in Bolton, Bedford and Sefton were ‘increasing apparently exponentially’.
The group called for ‘aggressive use of asymptomatic testing, contact tracing and isolation’ in hotspots and hinted at extending lockdown rules, warning the Government against waiting for more evidence before acting.
No10 has already deployed surge testing in a handful of areas where the variant is spreading quickest, including Bolton and Blackburn.
Highlighting SAGE’s fear about the strain, experts wrote: ‘In the face of uncertain evidence the risk of overreacting seems small compared to the potential benefit of delaying a third wave until more people are vaccinated.’
Expert advisers told the Government they believed the current reproduction ‘R’ rate of the Indian variant – how many people on average each patient infects – is around 1.64. They did not give an estimated R for the Kent strain.
They said the new strain appears to be spreading 40 per cent faster than the Kent version but they could not ‘conclude with any certainty’ cannot be certain it is biologically more transmissible.
The Joint Universities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research Group (Juniper) said it was still possible its increased infectivity could be down to superspreader events and socioeconomic factors.
For example a lot of the spread occurring in Bolton is among the town’s Indian population who are statistically more likely to live in high density housing and live with multiple relatives.
It comes as Mr Johnson told Conservative MPs that the ‘one-metre plus’ rule for social distancing is still set to be scrapped in June.
The Prime Minister said eliminating the measure was the ‘single biggest difference’ the government could bring about in order to get Britain’s pubs back into action, and he was eager for the rule to be scrapped by June 21, The Times reports.
As long as the rule is in force, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other hospitality businesses remain financially unviable, having to legally keep customers separated while using their premises, industry leaders have warned.
Many have had to keep their doors closed throughout the coronavirus crisis.
More than 37million people have now received one vaccine injection — the equivalent of more than 70 per cent of all adults — and 21.2million are fully inoculated.
But the rise of the Indian Covid variant had sparked concerns that plans to end social distancing measures were in jeopardy, but on Wednesday Mr Johnson told the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs he was confident about abolishing the one-metre plus rule next month.
He said: ‘We are hopeful we can do that at the end of the road map.’ But Mr Johnson added that it depends on figures ‘continuing in the right direction’.
One MP who was at the 1922 meeting said: ‘He seemed very upbeat about removing the one-metre-plus rule next month.
‘He told us he fully realises that it is the biggest difference the government can make to letting pubs serve customers in reasonably normal conditions and that means getting rid of any capacity restrictions.’