Government ‘won’t rule anything out’ amid reports of two-week delay to 21 June lockdown lifting

The UK is seeing a worrying spike in daily cases of Covid-19

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
,Mayank Aggarwal
Tuesday 08 June 2021 08:13
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<p>File image: Boris Johnson and Sir Patrick Vallance arrive at a virtual news conference in Downing Street</p>

File image: Boris Johnson and Sir Patrick Vallance arrive at a virtual news conference in Downing Street

George Eustice has insisted the government will not “rule anything out” amid reports there could be a two-week delay to the planned easing of all Covid restrictions in England on 21 June.

The cabinet minister’s remarks came after chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, gave a “downbeat” assessment of the current state of the pandemic, including transmission rates and concerns about the new Delta variant, according to The Times.

On Monday, the UK recorded over 5,600 cases – well up from the recent low of around 1,350 infections a day at the start of May. During the briefing, the experts were said to have expressed reservations about the current timetable for lifting restrictions.

Pressed on reports the 21 June unlocking could be delayed by a fortnight, Mr Eustice, the environment secretary, told Sky News: “The prime minister has always said he’s going to take this a step at a time and that with each set of relaxations they’re going to basically assess the data when we get there.

“So we can’t make the final assessment until 14 June, that’s what he’s said all along. And we obviously don’t rule anything out.”

He added the “critical test” ahead of the planned lifting of restrictions will be whether those who have been vaccinated for Covid-19 are being infected. “It’s too early to say yet what we’ll do — we’ll be announcing that next Monday,” he said.

“What we’re not seeing at the moment is that growth in hospitalisations associated with [infections] and that’s because we know that if people have the vaccine, particularly once they’ve had the second jab of the vaccine, it actually does give them immunity to this new strain that’s around”.

Speaking last week Boris Johnson said he could “see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead with step four” as planned on 21 June, but stressed that the data was “still ambiguous”.

Other ministers, including the health secretary Matt Hancock, have given gloomier assessments of the prospect of the government being able to stick to the date, saying last week there wasn’t anything in the data to “say we’re definitely off-track”.

Millions of British adults are yet to be vaccinated, and the delay in lifting restrictions could ensure that all those over 50 years of age are fully vaccinated and there is enough time for the jabs to take effect.

So far, about 40.4 million people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, which is about 76.8 per cent of the adult population. Around 27.9 million have also received a second dose, or about 53 per cent of adults.

The Times reported a cabinet source saying the delay in the lifting of lockdown could be between “two weeks and a month”. Ministers were said to be of the view that the political impact of any delay would be limited if restrictions are fully lifted in time for the start of the summer holidays in late July.

As things stand, the plan is for restrictions to be lifted from 21 June meaning, for instance, that pubs and restaurants would no longer be required to follow social distancing rules.

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