THE LAST step for easing lockdown on June 21 could be delayed a fortnight after cabinet ministers were increasingly pessimistic in the latest “downbeat” briefing.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, gave a briefing to ministers on the latest data that was described as “fairly grim”, The Times reports.
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Patrick Vallance pictured briefed ministers in the latest ‘downbeat’ meeting about lockdown easingCredit: Reuters
The delay would enable all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and leave sufficient time for jabs to take effect before restrictions are lifted.
They emphasised concerns about the rate of transmission of new strains of coronavirus, such as the Indian variant, and that vaccinations did not provide 100 per cent protection.
One cabinet source said: “They emphasised again that the vaccine did not provide 100 per cent protection and there were real concerns about the transmissibility of the new variants.”
“I think you’re looking at a delay of between two weeks and a month. As long as we have fully opened things up by the school holidays then I don’t think the political damage will be too great.”
Another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat”.
They added: “We always said it was June 21 at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold.
“Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”
Chris Witty presented the latest figures to ministers to discuss the possibility of continuing with the roadmap scheduleCredit: Reuters
The prime minister’s spokesman said that while there was “nothing in the data” to suggest that restrictions could not be eased on June 21, the government would look closely at case numbers and hospitalisations.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “We must proceed safely and not see this go backwards.
“When the prime minister set out the roadmap he said he wanted it to be ‘cautious and irreversible’. So far, we have succeeded in making it irreversible, and I hope we can keep it that way.”
Johnson is expected to make a formal announcement on Monday, when the government’s social distancing review will be published.
On June 21 the government hopes to end social distancing, meaning that venues such as pubs and restaurants would no longer have to enforce the one metre-plus rule.
The rule of six for indoor gatherings would be lifted, and nightclubs would be allowed to return.
The 30-person limit on events including weddings would be lifted, as would the rules on wearing face coverings and the guidance on working from home.
Of the 12,383 cases of the Indian variant that have been identified, 126 have led to hospital admissions. Eighty three of the patients had not been vaccinated at all, 28 had received one dose and three had received both doses.
The UK recorded 5,683 coronavirus cases yesterday, up 68 per cent in a week, and one death related to Covid.