Brits must wait until June 14 to learn if Covid restrictions will be fully lifted on June 21, Matt Hancock confirmsMay 17, 2021
COOPED-UP Brits desperate for lockdown to finally end will have to wait until June 14 to learn if Covid restrictions will be fully lifted that month.
Boris Johnson warned on Friday his roadmap may face delays – although the next big step in unlocking will still take place tomorrow, as planned.
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And now Matt Hancock says the Government will reveal their plans for ending social distancing and mask-wearing in advance of June 21, when the rules are currently due to end.
He spoke after it was revealed the super-infectious Indian mutation takes hold in the UK. Sage scientists fear the variant could be up to 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain.
It comes as:
- Boris Johnson has been ordered to ‘hold his nerve’ over the new variant or face a jobs catastrophe
- British Airways cabin crew are failing to show up for flights to Covid-ravaged India
- 20,000 people flew in from India and could have spread the new variant while the PM delayed a decision on the travel ban
- Holidaymakers have been warned to expect six hour airport queues from tomorrow as Portugal is ready to welcome 3,000 Brits a day
- Mr Johnson says he won't add destinations to the green list any time soon in a holiday blow for millions
This morning, Sky's Sophy Ridge asked the Health Secretary "how likely" it is that the roadmap to freedom will be disrupted.
"It's the question everyone's asking, and the answer is it's too early to tell," Mr Hancock said.
"We're going to monitor the data – there's new data every day – and then announce a decision on June 14.
"We'll be as transparent as we can be."
The Indian strain has spread rapidly and “reached all corners of the UK” within a matter of weeks. Bolton and Blackburn are particularly badly affected.
And the PM admitted he is "very anxious" about the mutation.
However, Mr Hancock today said he has a "high degree of confidence" that the jab does work against the new variant.
"There is new, very early data out from Oxford University – I'd stress this is from labs and it is not clinical, but it does give us a high degree of confidence that the vaccine does work against it," he told Ms Ridge.
"But it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast."
And he said there are clear signs those not taking the jab when it's offered are far more likely to fall ill.
"In Bolton, we have seen number of people in hospital with the variant," he said.
"The vast majority have been eligible for the jab but not taken it.
"If you're eligible, please come forward – we know the jab protects you."
And in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, he said 18 people are in hospital with the Indian variant – of whom five have had one jab, and one – a "frail" patient – has had both.
Asked if anyone who has received two jabs has died of the illness, he replied: "Not that we're aware of."
The Army is being sent to places worst-hit by the strain, including Bolton, after experts warned it could cause 1,000 deaths a day.
It's feared the variant could see up to 10,000 daily hospitalisations by summer.
Mr Hancock admitted the strain "could spread like wildfire" in the unvaccinated.
The Government has committed to a "cautious but irreversible" unlocking of the UK.
But Mr Hancock warned that if Sage are right about the Indian variant, and transmissibility is 50 per cent higher, it could lead to issues.
"Epidemiology is all about balance of risks and there are no absolutes," he cautioned.
"If the transmissibility as high as that we will have a problem."
Professor John Edmunds of Sage this morning said there's a possibility Boris Johnson may need to row back his roadmap if cases of the mutation continue to surge.
He told the Mr Marr: "I don't think we should rule anything out.
"If things get worse rapidly, action needs to be taken."
Under current plans, masks in shops and offices are heading for the chop on June 21.
Social distancing will also end.
Masks on trains and buses remain an option but possibly without the fines to enforce the measure.
An insider said: “The current thinking points to social distancing going and mask wearing only in limited settings like buses, trains and the Tube.
“Obviously this is all dependent on final sign-off but the data is looking good and the political will is there for a proper lift-off.”
Meanwhile, everyone aged 35 and over in England will be offered the jab in the coming days.
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