BORIS Johnson could be forced to put back the end of lockdown for more than four weeks over rising Covid cases, ministers have admitted today.
Health minister Ed Argar said it is "of course possible" that a longer delay will be needed to get the Indian variant under control.
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But he said the hope is to use the month-long window to get 10 million second jabs into arms, extending full protection to 75% of Brits.
The PM is set to announce Freedom Day is being pushed back by four weeks to July 19 during a Downing St press conference at 6pm.
He'll include a break clause, meaning the lifting of restrictions could go ahead on July 5 if hospitalisations don't significantly rise.
But some ministers fear that with cases spiralling the health situation could go the other way and curbs will need to stay in place for longer.
Asked about that possibility, Mr Argar said: "Were there to be a delay of course that’s possible.
"But I and the PM and the Health Secretary want to see restrictions removed as soon as it’s safe to do so, and any delay as short as possible.
"We’ve got to recognise vaccination is the key. This disease will become endemic and we’ve got to learn to live with it.
"We will not get to a zero Covid. Vaccination is the way to get to the point where we can live with this disease."
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab also warned he couldn't provide an "absolute guarantee" restrictions will definitely be lifted on July 19.
But Mr Argar was adamant that there will be no rolling back of the roadmap and return to the previous lockdown.
He said: "The key thing the PM has always said throughout is the dates set out in the roadmap were the earliest possible date it could happen.
"He’s been clear each step is irreversible, that is why he’s considering now whether or not to delay step four.
"The reason the gaps between stages are five weeks and the reason it’s staggered over a number of months – I know people would’ve wished it to be faster – is because he believes on the basis of the advice he’s received that means it can be irreversible."
And the PM is set to offer a welcome reprieve for couples today by announcing restrictions on wedding ceremonies are being eased.
The PM, who tied the knot with Carrie 16 days ago, is desperate not to ruin couples’ happy day.
Ministers were last night thrashing out plans to let more than 30 guests attend so long as they stick to social distancing.
One said: “There is hope a deal can be done.”
Mr Argar said ministers are aware the last year has been "hugely distressing" for loved up couples.
He added: "I’ve got constituents in this situation, as will all other MPs, who have had to postpone their wedding in some cases not once but twice, and of course the financial costs that can go with that.
"I know that is something the PM will be very mindful of, he’ll be very sensitive to the situation that those individuals or couples find themselves in."
His remarks are the biggest hint yet that there will be a special exempting for weddings even as other parts of the unlocking are put on hold.
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