The public will accept a delay to the 21 June ending of all Covid rules to avoid a damaging “yo-yo” of restrictions, Dominic Raab says – as thousands of weddings and other public events face cancellation.
Pressure is growing on ministers to postpone the final move out of lockdown as infections rise sharply, with one expert warning on Sunday of a “substantial third wave of Covid infections”.
Boris Johnson is now expected to announce a four-week delay to lifting of all remaining restrictions at a Downing Street press conference on Monday.
The critical aim is to “move out of lockdown irreversibly”, Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, all but confirming the delay.
“I think the vast majority of people in the country, but also in parliament, understand that. We don’t want to yo-yo back in and out of measures,” he said.
The foreign secretary also brushed off fears that vaccines are less effective against the Delta variant – even after 14 people died with it two weeks after receiving their second jab.
“It takes 3 weeks, not 2 weeks, to have the full impact of the vaccines, so I’d be a bit careful about citing statistics out of context like that,” he said.
Hospitality leaders have already reacted with fury to the prospect of a delay, with thousands of events set to be cancelled and the risk of a second successive summer without big music festivals.
The industry estimates pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants will lose £3bn in sales – with up to 200,000 jobs shed – and that the economy overall will suffer a £4bn hit if restrictions are retained for another month.
Theatres and sporting events are likely to have their attendances still capped at 50 per cent capacity, with social distancing and table service only in pubs and the “rule of six” in people’s homes.
With strong Tory opposition to delaying the roadmap, Mr Raab was asked if the prime minister could “hold the Conservative Party together”, but replied: “Yes.”
Earlier on the programme, Sage adviser Professor Andrew Hayward said he believed the UK would see a “substantial third wave of Covid infections” in the midst of the spread of the Delta variant.
“The really big question is how much that wave of infections is going to translate into hospitalisations,” he said.
“The fact that we’ve got 55 per cent of the adult population double-vaccinated means that this would be substantially less bad than it could have been, but we don’t exactly know how bad it could be,” he said.
Epidemiologist Sian Griffiths said the delay appeared increasingly “necessary”.
“The public health advice would be to take it slowly and in a sustained way so we can keep up the progress we’ve been making,” she said. “I think waiting a little bit longer to sustain the progress is necessary, but it may not be an all-or-nothing Freedom Day,” Griffiths said.