Earlier, PM Boris Johnson said there were no signs “at the moment” that the final stage of lockdown easing in England, scheduled for 21 June, ought to be delayed, despite calls from some health experts to consider reworking the timeline due to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India.
As the British Government is set to decide shortly whether or not to announce the complete lifting of all lockdown restrictions on 21 June, recent statements by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock have not gone over well with Tory MPs.
An announcement by Hancock that the government was “absolutely open” to delaying what has been dubbed “Freedom Day” has been slammed by backbenchers, like Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne, for potentially “wasting the advantages afforded by the success of vaccinations”.
“The original mission statement was to save lives by protecting the NHS. We’ve done that. The more it moves the goalposts, the more people will be made redundant,” the Daily Telegraph quoted Swayne as saying.
Former Tory Cabinet minister David Jones shared the sentiments:
“Matt Hancock has acknowledged that most people in hospital [with Covid-19] have not been vaccinated. The answer is therefore to get as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible. It is not to delay the lifting of lockdown, with the attendant damage to people’s mental and physical well-being and to the economy.”
Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers insisted that while “most people” might agree to wearing masks and enduring a degree of travel restrictions, “we’ve got to allow the hospitality business to open up again fully.”
“Increasing frustration” among colleagues over the restrictions was cited by senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who was quoted as warning:
“We’ve got to be really, really careful about getting panicked about every variant that comes along until we are absolutely sure there is one that is going to defeat the vaccine.”
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, underscored that “ongoing uncertainty” was causing “significant distress” to the sector. The Hospitality chief pointed out that “healthcare data does not indicate a need for deviation.”
“It is crucial that the Government commits to dropping the restrictions on June 21. Any delay in the roadmap would have a devastating effect on an already fragile sector,” added Nicholls.
‘Penciled in’ Date
The irate reaction followed the Health Secretary’s appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, where he offered the strongest indication yet that the original date for the next step in the roadmap out of lockdown might be delayed.
In line with the roadmap out of lockdown unveiled by the UK government back in February, the “pencilled in” date for the nation to see an end of all coronavirus restrictions was 21 June.
However, it was presupposed that around 14 June a final decision on that score would be taken. Scientists and civil servants have been ostensibly urging to reconsider the timeline due to concerns over the Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India.
“We are absolutely open to doing that if that’s what needs to happen. We said in the roadmap that June 21 is the date by which we would not take Step 4 before that date and that we would look at the data. That is exactly what we are doing, so the roadmap was set up in order to be able to take these sort of changes into account,” said Matt Hancock.
Furthermore, the senior government minister admitted he “wouldn’t rule out” measures such as wearing face masks in public settings and working from home where possible continuing in the long term.
“The way we are looking at this is Step 4 involves the removal of the remaining social restrictions like the rule of six and some of the business closures which are still there… And separately we have a piece of work on what the social distancing rules should be after that.”
Hancock emphasised that the Indian coronavirus variant was 40 percent more transmissible than the previously dominant Kent version.
According to the Health Secretary, plans on how to proceed regarding social distancing after Step 4 out of lockdown were currently being elaborated with scientific advisers.
Freedom Day ‘Postponement’
This comes after reports had been circulating to suggest the possibility of a postponement to the original Freedom Day deadline, with a two-week delay until 5 July hinted at.
Concerns regarding the removal of all legal limits on social contact on 21 June have been prompted by a number of factors, which will be laid out in a series of papers before ministers this week.
Scientific advisors and officials have been assessing data on whether the Delta variant of COVID-19 might adversely affect hospitalizations and be responsible for a surge in cases, according to sources cited by the outlet.
“The scientists are more in favour of a two-week extension and that is certainly one of the options that has been put in the papers for ministers,” a source was cited as saying.
An absence of a spike in hospitalisations would reportedly reassure ministers when they assemble on 14 June to take the final decision on lifting the lockdown restrictions.
There has been a rise in coronavirus cases across the UK in recent weeks, said to be driven by the so-called “Indian variant”, but hospital admissions have remained flat, writes the publication.
According to official data, Britons who have received two vaccine doses make up less than five percent of those hospitalised with the new strain.
Another 5,341 cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK on Sunday, with four COVID-10-related deaths announced.
– 76.6% of adults have been vaccinated once for COVID-19
– 52.5% of adults have had two vaccines
– Yesterday, the team delivered over 600,000 doses
The vaccine is saving lives so when it’s your turn, come forward & get the jab.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) June 6, 2021
Meanwhile, there were 203,613 first vaccine doses administered on 5 June, taking the total to 40,333,231, and 473,378 more second jabs were received, taking that total to 27,661,353.
The continued success of the vaccination rollout is regarded by many as crucial to hopes that the final step of the government’s lockdown roadmap for Britain can go ahead as planned.