THE delay in lifting remaining Covid restrictions is a massive disappointment for many in Dudley South and will cause a lot of problems for many businesses – particularly those that rely on hospitality, tourism and events.

Two weeks ago I was sure that there was then nothing in the available data to suggest that Freedom Day shouldn’t be able to go ahead on June 21.

Sadly, since then, the Delta variant has spread rapidly and we are starting to see that being reflected in the number of people having to go to hospital. It became clear that a delay was both necessary and inevitable.

Of course, it was always said that Step 4 would happen ‘no earlier than June 21’ rather than on June 21 itself. But with the first three steps of easing having gone ahead as per their earliest dates, I know many people expected Step 4 to take place on June 21 and many businesses had made plans for it.

Although we might dislike the decision, it’s important to look at the reasons for it.

As an MP I am fortunate to have regular meetings and briefings from some of the world’s leading experts on virology and vaccinations – within government, the NHS and our top scientific research centres.

Science is almost never unanimous – that’s the nature of research and innovation – but there is an overwhelming consensus that we are in a worrying position where things could very quickly spiral out of control.

The experts had slightly different predictions for how many people they expected to need hospital treatment for Covid if restrictions were lifted next week, but they all suggested between two and three-thousand admissions each day. That would leave our hospitals more full this summer than at the worst peak last year.

Having spoken to doctors, nurses and managers at Russells Hall, I know how close they came to being completely overwhelmed last year and again in January.

If it had got any worse then they would not have been able to give the care and treatment that people urgently needed, whether for coronavirus, for cancer or other conditions.

At a time when our NHS desperately needs to catch up on treatments and operations that have been delayed during the pandemic, it would be irresponsible – and morally indefensible – to unnecessarily risk going back to such a dire position, even if we hate the measures that must remain in place for a few more weeks.

Restrictions that have been lifted over the past three months would probably have had to be reimposed.

Therefore, even though the idea of Government restricting people’s lives goes against all of my instincts, I do understand the basis on which the decision to delay has been made and agree they are necessary.

This cannot be an open-ended delay.

The medical and scientific projections show deaths and hospital admissions would be much lower if restrictions remain until July 19, with much smaller gains from further delays. We must use those extra four weeks to make sure all vulnerable groups have had both vaccine doses.

By then, two-thirds of adults will have been offered a second vaccine, giving them over 90 per cent protection against the new variation, breaking the link between higher infections, hospitalisations and deaths.