Science

End of England Covid lockdown on 21 June increasingly in doubt


The 21 June target for scrapping England’s remaining coronavirus restrictions appears increasingly under threat, as a senior government adviser said the country was in the early stages of a third wave.

Prof Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been “exponential growth” in new cases, with the variant first detected in India accounting for three-quarters.

Asked if the third wave had begun, Gupta replied: “Yes.”

He added: “Of course, the numbers of cases are relatively low at the moment – all waves start with low numbers of cases that grumble in the background and then become explosive – so the key here is that what we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave.

“It will probably take longer than earlier waves to emerge because of the fact that we do have quite high levels of vaccination in the population, so there may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.”

Speaking later on the same programme, the environment secretary, George Eustice, said the government “couldn’t rule anything out” when asked whether reopening would go ahead on 21 June.

“The rates are going up again slightly but from a low base and probably to be expected, given there are a significant number of younger people who are now out and mixing but haven’t had the vaccine – I suppose that is to be expected,” Eustice said.

“But the right thing to do in a couple of weeks’ time is to assess that data before deciding what we can do.”

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Asked whether businesses should prepare for a delay to the unlocking, Eustice replied: “I’ve said all along, as has Matt Hancock and the prime minister, we can’t rule anything out because we know this has been a difficult pandemic, a dynamic situation.

“We have to make that judgment a couple of weeks before. It will only be by then that we will see the full impact of the latest easements we made on 17 May, so I know everyone wants to know what is going to happen but we can’t actually make that judgment until we see the impact of the easements just made.”

Prof Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said authorities ought to have a clear picture of the pandemic before easing any restrictions.

Finn said while the country’s vaccination programme “will ultimately give us … protection” against the India coronavirus variant, key markers in the community should be taken into account before the next phase of reopening.

“I think it’s unfortunate that everyone’s got this particular date in their head, because really what we need to do is understand how things are going and adjust accordingly,” Finn told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“What we’ve done wrong in the past is left it too late and delayed making decisions, ultimately pushed them back and then ended up with large waves of infection.

“This time around, we should be cautious, wait to see what’s happening, and then let everyone free, if you like, once we know for sure that’s safe and that we can do that without having another round of lockdowns and so on.”

The latest warnings come after Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, on Sunday refused to deny that some restrictions such as mask wearing and working from home might remain in place to reduce the spread of the virus.



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