Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the easing of lockdown has been delayed by four weeks.

This means that Step Four of the Government's Covid Roadmap will end no earlier than July 19.

He told a Downing Street press conference that the spread of the Delta variant meant “we have obviously faced a very difficult choice”.

He said: "We now have the chance over the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more."

Mr Johnson added: “We can simply keep going with all of Step 4 on June 21, even though there is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines and that thousands more deaths would ensue which could otherwise have been avoided.

“Or else we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them.

“And since today I cannot say that that we have met all our four tests for proceeding with Step 4 on June 21, I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”

Politicians and business representatives were quick to react.

Dr Paul Spencer, executive director of Winchester BID, said: "This will have been a difficult decision for the Government and while I am sure we can all understand the rational, I very much hope that step 4 will not be delayed beyond 19 July.

"Much of the indoor and outdoor economy is open, we have many more freedoms than we did earlier in the year, and businesses are following the guidance which remains in place to safely welcome people back. Our local businesses have shown incredible resilience and of course we cannot wait to reach that final step in the roadmap out of lockdown."

Meon Valley MP Flick Drummond said: "I am very disappointed that the easing of final restrictions has been delayed until 19th July.

"This is a blow to hospitality businesses in Meon Valley who were banking on more freedom and I will be speaking to the Treasury to see what further support can be made available.

"However, the Prime Minister has been very clear since February that any removal of restrictions would have to meet four tests at each stage. With the emergence of the Delta Covid variant some of these tests have not been met. We now have rising infections and hospital rates, although still at low levels, and we must call a halt right now to monitor the situation.

"The key has always been to have an irreversible easing of restrictions - no-one wants to go back into lockdown this winter. Let’s continue to all do our bit to help. Go out and get the jab and make sure you have both doses. This is the way to beat Covid and the data on how effective two doses of the vaccines are is very promising indeed. We just need to vaccinate all adults as soon as possible and then reassess."

Hampshire Chamber Chief Executive and Executive Chairman Ross McNally said this evening: “With Covid cases on the rise again, most businesses will appreciate the public health arguments for a further delay to lockdown easing but that will come as cold comfort for those struggling in the hardest-hit sectors, especially hospitality, retail, events and live entertainment. After so many false starts, many businesses have been anxiously pinning their hopes on a return to normal trading from 21 June and had prepared accordingly. Some will have ordered stock and taken on other supply costs as they geared up their capacity. The impact on commercial activity from this further delay must be mitigated by commensurate government support measures so businesses do not lose out again while we await the full unlocking of the economy. We will continue to back our members across Hampshire, working in partnership with local and central government and other organisations, as we all look to push on and regain business confidence.”