England is just over 24 hours away from the biggest easing of lockdown restrictions thus far, as ministers press on with the plan despite concerns that too many people are still awaiting vaccination.
Health minister Edward Argar has urged people to behave responsibly as lockdown measures are relaxed across England on Monday, with indoor dining and the reopening of cinemas among the freedoms people have been looking forward to since the prime minister first outlined his roadmap.
But the looming move comes amid mounting concern over the spread of the COVID-19 variant first detected in India, with some scientists calling for a delay in the easing and others urging the public to exercise the "utmost caution".
The variant is believed to be more transmissible than other ones - though there is no current evidence to suggest it causes more severe illness, and hospital admissions currently remain low in affected areas.
Another 2,027 overall coronavirus cases were reported on Saturday, along with seven more COVID-related deaths within 28 days of a positive test result.
The seven-day average for new cases is up slightly on the previous week, with 15,762 positive tests reported on the government's data dashboard since last Saturday, but the number of deaths keeps falling.
And the vaccination programme continued to move at a good pace, with 204,912 first doses administered on Friday, while 397,111 people got their second jab.
It means 36,320,867 people in the UK (69% of the adult population) have been vaccinated, with 19,698,121 (37.4% of the population) fully immunised.
There is no evidence that the Indian variant is resistant to vaccine, though the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Anthony Harnden, has warned that jabs are "almost certainly less effective" at reducing transmission.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has said Monday's relaxation could "lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)".
Minutes of a meeting on Thursday suggest there is a "realistic possibility" that the Indian variant is 50% more transmissible than the coronavirus one that emerged in Kent late last year.
The scientists said there "may be some reduction in protection" when it comes to vaccines.
And whilst the government remains on track to meet its target of offering a first dose to all UK adults by 31 July, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the lockdown easing is a "real worry" while many are still waiting.
Some of the other major changes to the rules on Monday include people being able to hug loved ones, pubs being allowed to serve indoors, and care home residents will be able to nominate five visitors for regular visits.
The BMA's public health medicine committee co-chairman Dr Richard Jarvis said: "With key segments of the population still not vaccinated and clusters of variants, including the rapidly increasing Indian variant, becoming a growing concern, we must approach this next stage of easing lockdown with the utmost caution."
"It is a real worry that when further measures lift on May 17, the majority of younger people, who are often highly socially mobile and could therefore be most at risk of a more infectious strain, are not yet vaccinated."
At a Downing Street briefing on Friday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant could delay the fourth stage of lockdown easing on 21 June.
The government has set out four tests that must be met for lockdowns to be eased - but Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent SAGE group of experts, has said that one of these tests has not been met.
While the vaccine rollout has been successful and has helped reduce hospital admissions and deaths, and current infection rates do not risk putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS, she warned this new variant of concern increases the risks associated with relaxing the rules.
On Tuesday, she said moving to stage three of the roadmap "risks adding fuel to the fire", adding that attention should turn to ensuring the Indian variant isn't a threat - or stamping it out.
"Personally, I would like to slow down now to reduce chance of reversing the map later risking more uncertainty, more damaging closures and longer recovery from a worse situation. We need to learn from previous experience," Prof Pagel wrote in a Twitter thread.
During Friday's briefing, England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the Indian variant - with which four people in the UK are known to have died - is expected to become the most dominant in the UK over time.
Public Health England said on Thursday there had been 1,313 cases in England of the Indian variant in a week, more than double the previous week's figure.
In light of the data, Mr Johnson has unveiled plans to accelerate vaccinations among the over-50s and those who are clinically vulnerable.
Instead of receiving their second dose 12 weeks after their first, the final jab will now be delivered within eight weeks.
Elsewhere, Scotland is preparing to drop to Level 2 restrictions on Monday, meaning cinemas, theatres, concert halls and stadiums can reopen.
However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Glasgow and Moray will remain in Level 3 of the five-tier system for a week after both areas experienced a surge in cases.