Delta delays final step of UK's roadmap to freedom

The UK Government has announced a four-week delay to Step 4 of its roadmap for the lifting of COVID-related restrictions. Step 3 restrictions remain in place, as concerns about the Delta variant of the virus were blamed for the delay of what many referred to as ‘Freedom Day’ on the 21st June, when the last COVID restrictions were due to be lifted.

The Delta variant appears to be between 40% and 80% more transmissible than the Alpha variant and is rapidly driving up case numbers. There are currently around 8,000 cases a day (the highest since the end of February) and these are increasing by around 64% each week, according to official data. Hospitalisations are starting to rise, with the average number of people admitted to hospital increasing in England by 50% per week, and 61% per week in the North-West.

It is now expected that England will move to the final step of its roadmap on 19th July, although there are plans to review the data in 2 weeks in case the risks have reduced.

There were some concessions made for the 21st June, however, when planned changes to the rules on weddings, wakes and large events will be given the green light.

Commenting on the announcement, CBI director-general, Tony Danker said that while a delay is regrettable, public health must come first.

“Most businesses favour certainty and irreversibility over speed, as lifting and then reimposing restrictions would be a nightmare scenario for many firms. But we must acknowledge the pain felt by businesses in hospitality, leisure and live events. At best they’re operating with reduced capacity hitting revenues, and at worst, some aren’t open at all.

“Continuing restrictions means the Government must urgently revisit the support available. That starts with holding back on the tapering of business rates relief and extending the commercial rent moratorium for those sectors most impacted. A solution must also be found for the hard-pressed international travel sector.

“Above all, we must now learn to live with the virus, with a growing focus on the data for long term hospitalisations and deaths but also vaccine coverage. Firms do require greater clarity and guidance on the future of the Government’s support for workplace testing, which is helping to keep staff and workplaces safe. Ultimately, rapidly vaccinating citizens - both at home and abroad - remains the best way to safeguard economic growth.”

In better news, the UK jobs market was found to be showing signs of recovery, according to official figures. Unemployment stood at 4.7% in the three months to April, down from 4.8% previously, the Office for National Statistics said.

Matthew Percival, CBI director for people and skills, commented: "Job vacancies returning to pre-pandemic levels offers further evidence of an economic rebound in progress. While the delay to stage four of the roadmap was a blow to those in the hardest hit sectors still facing restrictions, 9 out of 10 businesses are open and operational.

“Recruiting in a post-pandemic economy is becoming increasingly difficult, particularly in sectors like hospitality and food manufacturing, and for jobs like HGV drivers and workers with digital skills.

“Redundancies falling shows that furlough has worked. Workers are largely returning to their pre-pandemic jobs and if this continues then the end of furlough is unlikely to ease staff shortages.”

COVID-secure working from 21st June 2021 (Source: UK Government)

Working safely

Those that can have been asked to continue to work from home, with employers urged to discuss working arrangements with employees and to “take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working”.

Where people cannot work from home, employers should take steps to make their workplaces COVID-19 secure and help employees avoid busy times and routes on public transport. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk.

Businesses and venues are required under health and safety legislation to follow the appropriate COVID-secure guidance for their sector:

Detailed guidance for different types of business and venue

A complete summary of what you can and cannot do:

Meeting others for work

When meeting others for work, people may gather in a group no larger than six people or two households indoors or in a group larger than 30 people outdoors where it is necessary for work. The guidance suggests people should remain 2 metres from anyone they do not live with, or at least 1 metre with additional mitigations.


Conference centres and exhibition halls will be able to open for conferences, exhibitions, tradeshows, and private dining and banqueting events, subject to capacity limits.

Indoor events and remaining outdoor events, such as elite sport events, business events, cinemas and live performance events are also permitted. Attendance at these events is restricted to 50% of capacity up to 1,000 people for indoor events, and 50% of capacity up to 4,000 people for outdoor events.

For outdoor events taking place in venues with seated capacity of over 16,000, attendance of up to 25% of seated capacity, or 10,000 seated people, whichever is lowest, is permitted.

Both outdoor and indoor gatherings or events, organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation, can be organised, subject to specific conditions: that they comply with COVID-secure guidance including taking reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission, complete a related risk assessment; and ensure that those attending do not mix beyond what is permitted by the social contact limits (unless another exemption exists, such as for organised sport or exercise, supervised activities for children or a significant life event).

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