Pubs and restaurants may have their hopes for a somewhat quick recovery dashed as the Indian variant may jeopardise the end of lockdown in June.
England plans to drop all restrictions on 21 June but the milestone may be postponed if the virus isn’t kept under control.
Downing Street was scheduled to confirm the end of lockdown over the next two weeks but the review may now be delayed, Downing Street said on Monday.
“The Indian variant could pose a threat to this process – our decision will be based on latest data. We will set out plans as soon as the data allows,” the prime minister’s official spokesman was reported as saying by the BBC.
The government is looking to do “everything possible to give people enough time to prepare,” he added.
It is not clear yet how serious the Indian variant might be, but it is understood it spreads more quickly than other strains of COVID-19.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for young people who live in areas affected by the strain to get the vaccine earlier than planned, while Bolton has been offering the jab to “anyone who wants it” after recording a surge in cases.
However, Downing Street told local authorities to stick to current plans.
The UK has distributed 56mln doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, including 20mln second doses.
However, young people – those most likely to work or attend hospitality venues – are the last in line.
Delaying the end of lockdown will be yet another challenge for the hospitality sector, which struggles to trade at a profit with socially distanced indoor service and are pinning their hopes on pent-up demand.
“A lot of consumers are in a strong position to spend big, having saved a lot of money during the pandemic, and many will be eager to splash the cash as they reclaim leisure experiences,” commented Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.
“Therefore, takings could be strong for at least the next few weeks, assuming consumers aren’t put off from the threat of the Indian variant spreading fast, particularly among those not yet vaccinated.”