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Experts urge Boris Johnson to ‘pause’ 21 June lifting of last Covid restrictions

Independent Sage says acting now to combat new variant could prevent need for another lockdown later

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 04 June 2021 12:45 BST
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Boris Johnson is faced with a choice of whether to lift the last restrictions
Boris Johnson is faced with a choice of whether to lift the last restrictions (EPA)

A group of experts is calling on Boris Johnson to "pause" the last stage of lockdown lifting amid the spread of a new Covid-19 variant.

Independent Sage said delaying the end of restrictions on 21 June would help avoid the need for another full lockdown further down the line.

In a statement the group of scientists said that there was increasing evidence that the so-called "Delta variant" has "spread widely across the UK and is continuing to spread, that it has higher infectivity than the previous circulating variant, and that it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalisation".

They added: "There is increasing evidence that vaccine efficacy is compromised against this variant, and that individuals remain at particular risk until they receive two doses.

"There is some evidence that protection from two doses wanes after a number of months, particularly in the elderly. Meanwhile, cases are surging in school aged children, and spreading into the community, particularly amongst those yet to be fully vaccinated. It is clear that the link between infection and hospitalisation has not yet been fully broken."

It comes as Imperial College expert Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the architects of the first lockdown, warned that overall UK data on the spread of the virus was heading in a “negative direction.”

He said the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, could be "between about 30 and maybe even up to 100 per cent more transmissible" than previous iterations of the virus.

“We haven’t yet been able to pin down how it translate translates into hospitalisations," he told the BBC.

"We’re seeing an hospitalisations in the north west, and a couple of other areas, but it’s too early to say, and that’s critical because we do expect vaccines to give a high level of protection still, but exactly how high its critical what size third wave we might see.”

The government is yet to decide how to react to the spread of the new variant and whether the June 21 lifting of all restrictions should take place, but the Daily Telegraph newspaper report that ministers could continue to recommend home working.

Responding to Professor Ferguson’s comments, Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, told the same broadcaster: “It’s certainly true the India variant is more transmissible that it is growing, it is likely to become the dominant variant in the UK and these are all sources of caution.

“But we’ll have to review all the data in the round before we make a final decision. There’s nothing today that would lead us to believe that we can’t move forward with the 21 June re-opening, but I think you can hear from the tone and the decisions we’re making in other respects, we’re applying an added degree of caution in the days ahead”.

If it goes ahead, step four in the roadmap would see removal of social contact limits and the opening of nightclubs and large events.

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