During a Downing Street press briefing on Friday (14 May), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Indian Covid-19 variant could 'pose serious disruption' to the Government's plan to drop legal limits on mixing under the final stage of its four-stage roadmap out of lockdown, which is currently scheduled for 21 June 'at the earliest'.
He said: "I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June."
It comes as restrictions on indoor hospitality settings across England, Wales and much of Scotland have been eased.
Data following today's (17 May) relaxation will be assessed over the coming weeks to determine whether the June 21 relaxing can go ahead.
Over the weekend, a return to local restrictions in areas with higher rates of infection was mooted as a possible solution.
Commenting on the Prime Minister's statement, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The Prime Minister has introduced an element of doubt surrounding the dropping of restrictions on 21 June.
"The situation will clearly be closely monitored but should the roadmap timings slip, it is vital financial supports are forthcoming, and that business rates are postponed until October.
“Businesses need a swift, publicly stated commitment that such supports would be in place in the event of a delay, to give venues some reassurance as they look toward the challenges of viable trading.”
A delay to final stage of the roadmap will further prolong the pain for businesses in the night-time economy, such as nightclubs, many of whom have been forced to remain shut since the onset of the first national lockdown in March last year.
"Initial feedback from operators following the easing of lockdown from midnight has seen a renewed level of confidence from businesses able to open with many seeing an increase in bookings," says Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA).
"However, social distancing still presents some considerable viability challenges and recruitment of staff has been one of the major challenges for opening as many have decided not to return to the industry from furlough.
"The late night and events sector, following the Prime Minister's statement, has been placed under a level of doubt over the withdrawal of restrictions on the 21 June. Any delay will cost nightlife in England millions through lost revenue from torn-up plans put in place for reopening. It would be a body blow for an already beleaguered industry.
"If the Government is going to veer off the roadmap, they must act decisively and give businesses enough time to prepare and ensure proportionate levels of financial support and an extension of current reliefs are available for the businesses hardest hit by the change.
"Otherwise, they will be consigning yet more nightlife businesses across England to bankruptcy."