THE Prime Minister is expected to announce a four-week delay to the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Boris Johnson will reportedly plead with the nation to make "one last heave" to freedom, blaming the delay on a third wave of Covid infections.

A government source has reportedly told Sky News that so-called Freedom Day, the total relaxation of rules, will be postponed until 19 July.

"It is one last heave," a senior source was quoted as saying.

"It is a straight race between the vaccine and the virus."

It is also reported that Mr Johnson could announce a drive to accelerate the vaccination programme.

Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, said: "This will be so disappointing to many but is both necessary and inevitable because of ministers' complacency and incompetence over the Delta variant - this delay is entirely of their making.

"Essential that businesses which lose out are properly supported."

Former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport said the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is rising, but not with the intensity seen in previous waves of the virus.

“Sadly we are in the grip of the early stages of a third wave of the virus and it is this Delta variant, the so-called Indian variant, which has a very significant transmission advantage over the previous Alpha variant, the so-called Kent variant – it’s about 60 per cent more transmissible,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We’ve got 7,000 cases on average per day at the moment, and a doubling time which is somewhere around a week.

“More than 90 per cent of the new infections in the UK are of this variant, and it is rising in most parts of the country, though not all.

“The good news is we would be in real trouble if not for the enormous success of the vaccination programme and so we have got 75 per cent of all adults have had the first dose and 50% who’ve had a second dose.”

He added: “This variant shows some partial escape, particularly from the first dose – so first dose of vaccine is about 30 per cent effective compared to 50 per cent with the previous variant.

“We are starting to see hospital numbers rise, though fortunately with nothing like the intensity we saw previously.”