June 21 Covid restriction easing could be under threat as new variant cases soar
A two-week delay to this month’s easing of coronavirus restrictions is reportedly being considered after the number of cases in the country almost doubled.
Multiple reports have also suggested plans to lift restrictions on June 21 could be scaled down, with social distancing and the wearing of face coverings set to continue amid concerns the Indian variant is fueling a surge in cases.
Yesterday, Friday, June 4, saw the UK record its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases – 6,238 – since late March.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggested the number of people who had the virus in England has increased by around three quarters in a week, taking it to its highest tally since mid-April.
According to the Telegraph, a two-week delay to the final stage of Boris Johnson’s road map will be used to accelerate second jabs for over-40s, moving from a 12 to eight-week gap between doses.
Over-25s will also be offered their first doses from next week, the newspaper said.
A study by the Francis Crick Institute found that after a single dose of the Pfizer jab, people were less likely to develop antibody levels against the Indian (B.1.617.2) variant, also known as Delta, as high as those against the previously dominant Kent variant, which has been dubbed Alpha.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) Government advisory panel, said the Government has a “difficult call” to make about easing restrictions on June 21.
He told Times Radio: “The difficult situation the Government have is of course if you delay that then of course you’ll get a smaller subsequent wave.
“I mean that’s the case with any control policy – if you leave them in for a longer period of time then it’s going to reduce cases.
“But of course, if you delay that we know that negatively impacts businesses, people’s livelihoods, and so forth.”
Kate Nicholls chief executive of UKHospitality, said keeping social distancing in place would threaten the viability of the sector.
“Sorry but leaving social distancing in place in pubs, restaurants, hotels and attractions means that June 21 is not freedom date at all,” she tweeted.
“It means that those businesses continue to operate at a loss and threatens the long term viability of businesses, jobs and the recovery.”
The Health Secretary said the Government “always expected cases to rise” as lockdown was eased, and that ministers were being “tough” on international travel rules to preserve the route out of lockdown in the UK by preventing new variants from taking hold.
Matt Hancock said vaccines had not managed to completely sever the link between infections and people ending up in hospital but that it was not yet possible to determine whether the Indian variant increased the risk of ending up on a hospital ward.
“That’s one of the things that we’re watching very carefully, and it’s too early to say what the decision will be ahead of June 21, but we’ll make sure people know in good time,” Mr Hancock told reporters on Friday.