It is “too early to say” whether the Indian variant will delay the next step of the reopening plan on 21 June, with Kate Nicholls urging patience as evidence is gathered.

Nicholls sounded a note of optimism as she told operators to wait two weeks until the prime minister makes a further announcement.

The comments came ahead of a report in The Times this morning which suggests ministers are drawing up plans for tier 4-style local lockdowns to combat the spread of the Indian variant.

Businesses in areas subject to the restrictions would receive grants of up to £18,000 - though the plans for local lockdowns were said to be a “last resort”.

Nicholls told MCA’s The Conversation: “This is about holding our nerve for the next two weeks while we go through a very jittery stage where the data is collected. We’ve all been through this process before, we just have to wait and see.

“There are still a very, very small number of cases and although there are worrying spikes, they are small in the overall numbers, and that is sign that the vaccinated are protected from this.”

A decision on the level of restrictions from 21 June will be taken in two weeks’ time.

She added: “Let’s not forget that only this time last week the prime minister was saying he was confident about 21 June, lots of ministers talking about removing every single scrap of restrictions.

“It’s not out of the bounds of probability that it could still go ahead, or that it could just be a more limited lifting of social distancing restrictions.

“In the meantime, the pressure remains. Let’s talk to MPs about extending that business rate holiday in England, to give these businesses breathing space.”